Germantown: High School Students Build a Garden From the Ground Up

Chef Michael Bell pointed out green beans growing in the Germantown High School garden.

While most high school students wouldn’t even think to go near school during their months off over the summer, a few students at Germantown High School could not seem to get away.

Chef Michael Bell pointed out green beans growing in the Germantown High School garden.

It wasn’t summer school nor was it a mandatory. Rather, six students from the advanced culinary course at the high school came to plant, till and weed their latest school project.

In June, Chef Michael Bell, a culinary teacher at Germantown High School, began overturning the soil of a neglected recess yard. He took the overgrown plot of land and turned it into what it is today, an up-and-coming garden at the Germantown High School. “I wanted the children to learn how to tend a garden from the ground up,” Bell said.

Six of Bell’s students volunteered their time to help him in the early stages of assembling the garden. A few came out nearly every Monday through Friday over the summer to work the 10 feet by 30 feet plot of land. “This was my baby, and I fully anticipated having to do 90 percent of the work, but my 90 percent has gone down 75 percent,” Bell said.

While it is still in its beginning stages, the garden has become part of Bell’s culinary curriculum. Now that school is back in session, Bell tries to take the students from his advanced culinary course out to the garden at least once per week.

“It benefits the students because they generally have no understanding of where food comes from,” Bell said. “It was such an eye-popping experience for these kids that they could go out in their backyard, dig some seeds into the ground and get something they could eat from it.”

Currently, the garden holds just a few crops, which include green beans, wax beans and Swiss chard. None of the items from this first season are intended for use in the kitchen. However, some will be dried and utilized for their seeds and planted the following year.

Bell said he intends to expand the production into a fully operating garden by next May or June. In the spring, Bell and his class will be planting strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe and a wide variety of produce not currently growing in the garden. The yielded crops will be put towards a prospective Saturday market that would be set up in front of the school.

“It’s been a good experience,” said John Fortune, an 11th-grader currently in Bell’s class. Fortune was also one of the six students who helped prepare the garden over the summer. “The garden gets me excited because we get to learn about farming and planting and that kind of stuff. I hope we can do more with it.”

Before Bell launched his idea of starting a garden, the small plot of land was nothing but an abandoned haven for 7-foot weeds. Now, it’s a fruitful opportunity for learning. “They absolutely love it,” Bell said. “All my students are active in class and take pride in what they do.”

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