TEMPLE TERRACE – A few weeks ago Terrace Community Middle School sixth-grade language arts teacher Stephanie Hill-Kennedy gave her students an assignment. They were to read “Seedfolks,” a children’s novel authored by Paul Fleischman.
The story takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, and centers around a diverse cast of characters. By happenstance, they come together and transform an empty lot into a vibrant community garden.
“I somehow wanted to make the story a real life experience for the kids,” said Hill-Kennedy. All it took was a little digging of her own to put her in touch with Travis Malloy, president of the Temple Terrace Community Gardens, an organization comprised of three public sites in the city where, for a small fee, folks can rent spaces to garden.
The duo’s discussion led to a recent Saturday morning meet up of Hill-Kennedy, Malloy and 60 TCMS students – along with some parents – at the gardens Plot 2 in Riverhills Park.
The students’ mission: to build a butterfly and herb garden using the “hugelkultur” method that incorporates burying moisture-absorbing wooden logs beneath the soil prior to planting.
The youngsters began by removing mounds of weeds and uprooting scores of wildly growing Cuban sweet potato and other plants.
Their next step involved digging trenches into which they placed the damp logs from a pile they had previously hand watered by the bucketsful.
They followed that task by carting and carefully distributing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of elephant compost into the freshly prepared beds.
Their final order of business was to cover the soil with a layer of moss to keep the bugs at bay.
From there a threesome of 11-year-old girls – Briana Orbegoso, Madey Porricolo and Shannon Chen – chose to plant a bed of lettuce.
“This whole thing was fun,” Madey said. “We learned about how to prepare the soil and how to plant different plants.”
Shannon said she was glad her class read “Seedfolks,” which in turn led to the project.
“I liked being here and being with my friends,” she said. “None of us even knew about this garden.”
Hill-Kennedy said afterward she received a lot of positive feedback.
“I had several kids who said they wanted to come back and do more,” she said. “They had so much fun.”
Lisa Dahir, the mother of TCMS sixth-grader Julia Dahir, was on hand to observe and help out if needed.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” she said. “It shows them responsibility and that everyone can help each other.”
The group effort gave Lisa Dahir an idea of her own.
“I spoke to the teacher (Hill-Kennedy) and thought maybe TCMS students could rent a space for their own garden,” she said. “For an annual fee of just $25, I think we could ask the parents to help make it happen.”
Malloy, who has been one of the gardens’ most ardent volunteers since the community garden’s inception about two years ago, couldn’t have been more pleased with the TCMS students’ enthusiasm and hard work.
“It’s very nice they gave us this kind of labor,” he said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.