Cuyahoga Falls school gardens yield benefits

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
From left, Steve McIntosh, Steve Pal, and Myann Nipper harvest the fruits and vegetables from the high school's garden.

CUYAHOGA FALLS – Those accepting donations of fresh produce from Good Neighbors in Cuyahoga Falls or other food pantries could be enjoying foods such as potatoes, carrots and beans from the garden at Cuyahoga Falls High School.

This month, produce harvested by the students and staff from the garden is being donated to Good Neighbors in Cuyahoga Falls, the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, and The Church in Silver Lake's Mobile Food Pantry, said Steve McIntire, intervention specialist at the high school. The high school’s Fresh Farm program has yielded more than 2,360 pounds of produce during the 2020 growing season.

The garden, which was started in 2015, was a program created for both special and general education students, who collaborate to support a wide variety of non-profits throughout the community, McIntire said.

“The garden is not only an extension of the classroom, capable of meeting a variety of learning standards, but it’s also a sanctuary for students and staff alike,” he said. “Not only do students meet math and science standards, but they develop independence and job skills, too.”

From left, Steve McIntosh, Mariah Bonenberger, Myann Nipper, and Steve Pal near the gardens at Cuyahoga Falls High School. This growing season has yielded more than 2,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which closed the school buildings in March the last school year, have posed some challenges, McIntire said. Currently, there are about seven students who come to the garden outside of school hours to work on the garden, plus about five additional students who work in the gardens during school hours.

“We don’t have as many students as we normally would due to the pandemic,” McIntire said.

That didn’t prevent those participating in the Fresh Farm Initiative from planting a variety of different plants.

“We have your standard sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, corn, kale, zucchini, beans, all the staples,” he said.

This year, the students also tried a few new plants, such as cantaloupe and tomatillos, the latter of which can be used for salsa verde, McIntire said.

Mariah Bonenberger picks peppers from the gardens at Cuyahoga Falls High School.

Other educational gardens have been established in the district as well, including at DeWitt and Richardson elementary schools.

Julie Hall, the principal at Richardson Elementary, said that their teaching garden was first planted in 2013 through a grant from the American Heart Association. Other area entities such as Western Reserve Hospital and Home Depot have helped with donations of plants, wood and soil for the raised beds. In addition, Stephanie Petit, the physical education teacher at Richardson, set up a donorschoose.org page to ask for donations.

“While our students tend to plant in the spring, that didn’t happen this year because of COVID,” Hall said. “But our families came out and took turns planting for us.”

For harvesting, families have taken turns on the weekends to gather the ripe produce, which they could keep, Hall said. In addition, the fruits of the students’ labors crop up in the cafeteria and in the meal bags provided to some students to take with them. Later in the fall, older students “typically come out and clean up the beds, and get them ready for next year.”

“It does take a village to get this done,” Hall said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com