Bay View Schools Cultivate Agriculture and Nutrition Know-how

October 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson

The aquaponics and greenhouse lab at Fernwood Montessori produce 10 to 15 pounds of fresh produce a week. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Over the last decade, elementary and high schools throughout Milwaukee and the nation have begun installing gardens and greenhouses that are employed as a multifaceted teaching tool. In addition to getting fresh air and gaining access to nutritious food, students gain fundamental garden skills and learn about sustainable food systems, nutrition, botany, and life skills.

A number of Bay View schools have agricultural programs in their curriculum and raised bed gardens on their grounds. Two have aquaponics labs. The Compass contacted the neighborhood’s schools and here is what we learned from those who responded to our request for information about the neighborhood schools’ ag and nutrition programs.

Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts
2969 S. Howell Ave.
Erin Dentice, agricultural program coordinator

Through Dentice’s efforts, Parkside has formed a partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin to study how nutrition education has a positive effect on students — specifically on behavioral referrals, self-
efficacy, confidence, and body mass index.

Erin Dentice is leading the ag and nutrition pilot program at Parkside School for the Arts. PHOTO JENNIFER KRESSE

Members of the partnership have initiated a pilot this fall that involves two classrooms that Dentice visits as a mentor, for 45 minutes each week. She teaches the students about nutrition and enhances her lessons with hands-on activities. Additionally, Parkside parents will be offered culinary arts classes.

The parents of the children receiving Dentice’s nutrition education will be invited
to the school to learn about nutrition and to cook with local chefs using fresh and nutrient-dense ingredients.

Dentice was given access to two hoop houses (formerly used by Growing Power) on the grounds of the public gardens near Sixth and Norwich streets and is working with local community members to renovate them.

The hoop houses will be incorporated into the Parkside program in January. Staff and students who are growing fresh food year-round in the raised beds and in the recently finished aquaponics lab, will also grow in the hoop houses.

Dentice is applying for grants to fund the work in both the 2017-2018 fall and spring semesters.

How did the gardens get started, and by whom?

Dentice: I started the gardens in 2013 when the schools merged, as a thank you to the teachers for their amazing work, and as a way to welcome the community, as our neighbors were not aware that we had moved into the Fritsche building. Tippecanoe and Dover merged that year, moving from their former buildings into the
Gustav A. Fritsche Middle School building, after that program moved to and merged with Bay View High School.

I continue to coordinate classroom projects. Teachers come to me with ideas about what they’d like to plant. I manage the gardens with the Parkside Garden Club, a group of parent and community volunteers, who help to ensure the gardens are tended to.

Who maintains the garden during summer when school’s not in session? 

The garden club.

Strawberries are grown by Parkside School’s K5 students. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

How do you decide what to plant?

Every year the teachers sign up for the gardens and either continue with an ongoing theme or start a new project. We have a Hunger
Task Force garden, a K5 strawberry patch (for friendship salad), and a second-grade beet garden, which is part of a special partnership with Urban Beets Café & Juicery. We also have an aquaponics lab at the school.

We have planted a bumper crop and will utilize it along with food grown in the aquaponics lab. As we learned through our community forums, it is key that what is learned in the classroom is carried into the home as well. Parent buy-in sets the program up for success.

We share our harvest with Bay View High School. The chefs that work in their culinary arts program use our harvest for hands-on cooking with the students there. And to foster and support recruitment within the community, our students are visiting BVHS’s innovation lab for a sampling of these classes, as well. We have partnerships with local cafés and we donate to soup kitchens.

How much do the kids participate? 

The children do everything from brainstorming and sketching their own gardens to suggesting what to grow, starting seedlings in the aquaponics lab, turning over the soil outside, adding manure prior to planting, planting, and watering the seedlings.

Howard Avenue Montessori
357 E. Howard Ave.
Jen Kubacki, parent coordinator

Who started the garden? When and why? 

Kubacki: The perennial garden was created
during the 2013-14 school year by a group of dedicated parents. The purpose of the garden is to support the Montessori botany curriculum. We added a compost container two years ago. Children collect vegetable and fruit waste as part of their daily jobs.

The raised garden beds were put in late 2015 as a dedicated space for vegetable growing.

The perennial garden at Howard Avenue Montessori is part of the school’s botany curriculum. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

What kinds of flowers are grown in the garden? Was it designed for rainwater retention?

It was designed to enhance the Montessori botany curriculum and beautify our property. Because it was a volunteer effort and donation driven, we planted what we received. We have coreopsis from a neighbor, daylilies from Wild Peach restaurant, a butterfly bush from a parent, purple cornflower, hostas, and more. We look for a variety of plants with different leaf shapes to help the students identify and classify flowers into the different species and plant families.

Why do you grow primarily garlic, and will you gradually grow more produce in the gardens?

Last year, Dave Kozlowski from Pinehold Gardens taught a lesson about garlic to our students. Garlic is such a great plant to learn about. The kids took the bulbs apart and planted the individual cloves. Dave showed the children how to use his special hand spade to plant the garlic at the proper depth. In addition, the kids measured how far apart to plant each clove. In late spring, we watched the green shoots, waiting for the garlic to scape. We learned that you must cut off the scape for the plant to send energy to the bulb. My favorite day was when we cut off the scapes during recess and the kids tasted them. Some thought it was too strong, but some loved it!

We will gradually grow more produce in the garden.

How much do the kids participate? 

As much as the teachers have time to dedicate to botany lessons.

What do you do with the harvest?

We have only had the beds for a full school year. We haven’t had a harvest yet, but our goal is for the students to grow and use the produce for snack time.

Next year, Howard will expand to the Dover School building. We are in the process of applying for a green infrastructure grant. It is our hope to make our Dover campus a model for green infrastructure and gardening.

Who maintains the garden during summer?

Howard has a summer camp. The camp incorporates maintaining the beds into its curriculum with the students.

Bay View High School
2751 S. Lenox St.
Roxanne Ciatti, special education teacher

Ciatti teaches special education students and her program focuses on functional
applications for all academic subjects.  “While my students follow an alternate curriculum, they are challenged to apply their skills to real world activities. The students are responsible for maintaining the school compost bins. When the teacher who maintained the gardens left, they were unused for a few years. The students, Mrs. Kazik (a member of the classroom staff), and I started talking about planting a garden to supplement our meal preparation activities,” she said.

In addition to the garden, several students helped to create painted wood garden
row markers with materials donated by Mrs. Katrina Kazik and her husband, Charlie, a Milwaukee firefighter.

Bay View High School students grew zucchini, yellow squash, turnips, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, peas, green beans, kohlrabi and lettuce in their raised bed garden plots. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Who started the garden? 

Roxanne Ciatti: The students in my classes started the garden. The raised beds were built several years ago with volunteers from Sweetwater Organics and a former biology teacher.
The reason that my students and I decided to plant the beds is because they had been dormant and were becoming weed beds.

We did not plant until late in May due to the rain and cool weather earlier in spring.

How do you decide what to plant?  

Dawn Riegel from the Garden District Neighborhood Association donated packages of several types of seeds for the
students. The students then researched which seeds could be planted together and plotted out the five raised beds that have three rows, with different seeds in each row.

What did you grow this season?

We planted zucchini, yellow squash, turnips, carrots, beets, Swiss chard, peas, green beans, kohlrabi, and lettuce — all of which grew well. We also planted parsnips, peppers, and pumpkin. Unfortunately, none of those grew.

How much do the kids participate?

The students cleaned out the gardens, plotted and dug the rows, planted the seeds, and used ground cover to decrease weeds. They weeded and watered until school was out for summer break. Since they returned this fall, the students have been weeding, harvesting, and cleaning out the garden.

Who maintains the garden during summer?

Katrina Kazik and I maintained the garden over the summer. We tried to use water from the rain barrels as much as possible, although Mr. Kevin Brown, school engineer, did provide us access to the hose, if needed.

What do you do with the harvest?

We distributed some of the vegetables to school staff members who were working over the summer. Katrina and I froze many of the vegetables we harvested to use during the school year. When the students returned, they also processed and froze vegetables they picked. Our plan is to use the vegetables in our cooking activities during the school year. The students will learn from a real world experience how food goes from the garden to the table.

Downtown Montessori Academy
2507 S. Graham St.
Sara Vondrachek, lower elementary teacher

Who started the garden? Why and when?

Sara Vondrachek: Downtown Montessori is a recognized Green and Healthy School by the state of Wisconsin. The gardens were started as an initiative of our school’s green team. This team consists of parents and a teacher representative.

Who is in charge?

The green team is in charge of the gardens.

How do you decide what to plant?

We try to plant a variety of things — perennials, annuals, and vegetables that can be harvested in early spring, throughout the summer, and a few things that can be harvested in the fall.

Downtown Montessori is a recognized Green and Healthy School by the state of Wisconsin. Its student gardens were started as an initiative of the school’s green team. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

What did you grow this season? 

We grew carrots, potatoes, corn, beans,
onions, tomatoes, bok choy, and a variety of herbs.

How much do the kids participate?

The kids helped plant everything. They weed the gardens and harvest the food.

Who maintains the garden during summer?

Our school runs a summer camp and the students that attend summer camp maintain the gardens, along with the summer camp staff.

What do you do with the harvest?

Some examples of what they used the veggies for this past year include green salads, potato salad, and fried green tomatoes. The kids also love to nibble on chives and other things during recess. The gardens are also used for studies in botany.

Fernwood Montessori School
3239 S. Pennsylvania Ave.
Matt Ray, adolescents teacher (Grades 7 and 8)

This school year, Matt Ray and 120 Fernwood Montessori students maintained
an aquaponics lab located on the school grounds. Ray has held an interest in aquaponics since he was first introduced to the indoor food growing system in 1996. Realizing that aquaponics can be a quintessential learning tool, he applied for grants to install a four-season greenhouse and aquaponics system at Fernwood. The system was constructed in 2007.

Fernwood also maintains an extensive outdoor container garden and a rain garden.

The greenhouse and aquaponics system at Fernwood Montessori provides 260 square feet of growing space for plants and 2,600 gallons of water where perch are grown. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Tell us about Fernwood’s greenhouse and aquaponics system.

Matt Ray: The greenhouse itself and all of its products are produced by the aquaponics system. It provides 260 square feet of growing space and 2,600 gallons of water. It’s the largest system that students operate in the city, or even in Wisconsin, for that matter. It’s also the most productive, and it is the result of the most up-to-date information, in terms of aquaponics farming. I’ve focused my extracurricular activity as well as my professional activity on this greenhouse project.

It produces 10 to 15 pounds of fresh produce a week. We service several restaurants in the Bay View area on a weekly delivery basis. Aside from life sciences, stewardship, and water studies, we also operate it as a micro economy. The students really get involved, each to their individual level of interest. Some students want to harvest, some want to do just bookkeeping. Others are interested in marketing — coming up with a brand or logo, and some just run tours.

What are some of the other benefits for students?

It ties in with Montessori education, which consists of very real life, hands-on exploratory principles that work into the Montessori system. Aquaponics is perfect for the older child, age 12 or 13, who is ready to move outside the classroom and start applying all the work they’ve done, so this is a natural extension of that. It’s perfect for the students because they’ve been primed. They have studied life sciences since K3, so they’re the ideal population to get involved with food systems.

Aquaponics is the quintessential teaching tool all rolled into one — food systems, cultural studies, botany, biology, business and finance, and health and nutrition.

What does the aquaponics system produce?

Through research and development, we’ve selected certain seeds that do best in aquaponics systems. We collected types of plants that grow best in water. From there, we went with what’s most nutritious, so we grow pretty much just the super foods (Toscano kale, Swiss chard, green- and red-veined sorrel). We have about 300 perch, and we have a research relationship with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, which is where we get our perch.

Who maintains this extensive system, especially when school is not in session?

It runs 365 days a year and has not shut down since April 2007. It has to be checked three times daily. The students became involved recently and stepped up more during this past summer to maintain it. I care for it, whether it’s on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day.

Cherry tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, pumpkins, red cabbage, raspberries, sweet peppers, and potatoes were grown in Fernwood’s raised beds this summer. A rain garden was created
to absorb organic discharge from its aquaponics system. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

What do you do with the outdoor garden?

It’s for seasonal growing, and it also acts as part of a waste management system. If you’re going to operate aquaponics, you’re going to have residuals, but we release zero discharge into the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewage District (MMSD). We run water
waste into outdoor containers, next to the greenhouse. We have a 1,000-square-foot rain garden.

During the summer months, Fernwood runs a summer camp and all of these children at summer camp get involved with the garden. They water it and all of the food grown outside in these containers goes home with children for free. That’s where we’re promoting the healthy food choice; you get in, get your hands dirty, and take this food home for free. Last year the harvest was substantial, over 600 pounds of produce that went home to Fernwood camp families. Now we’re starting the harvest and it all goes to the kids. With the greenhouse products, 100 percent is marketed.

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  1. UW Daily – October 3, 2017 | UW Daily on Tue, 3rd Oct 2017 10:22 am 

    […] School of Freshwater Sciences collaborates on Montessori school’s aquaponics project, Bay View Compass, Oct. […]

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