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Garden project teaches Westmont students value of hard work, environmental awareness

WESTMONT – Westmont High School’s Earth to School garden project is about more than students developing a green thumb.

Lisa Hootman, the environmental science teacher who started the project, said it’s a learning experience for students.

“Gardens, in general, promote a sense of community, earth stewardship, eating healthy and exercise,” Hootman said. “We teach them about self-reliance and being responsible, and a garden helps to promote that.”

For the Earth to School project, which began in February, students plant and maintain a nursery and vegetable garden. Hootman said the project’s execution took help from the kids.

“We had three workdays during the school year where I had anywhere from 20 to 30 kids who came out and put the garden together,” Hootman said. “Each Monday, we would build a raised bed, and we had to move all the soil and then fill the beds.”

The vegetable garden is home to Yukon gold, red and white potatoes, as well as onions, but Hootman said the students already have been discussing adding fruit trees, strawberry plants and blueberry patches.

“That’s kind of exciting, too, because they’re even thinking along those lines,” she said, adding that putting in an orchard could be a good idea.

All vegetables and fruits grown in the garden are going to the food services on campus, Hootman said.

The students are using marigold flowers instead of chemicals to keep insects away.

“We’re not going to use any pesticide or herbicides,” Hootman said. “We’re just making it organic and natural – only water.”

Although she said she’s focusing on just maintaining this garden, there are future plans to add other components.

“We’re actually going to build a compost bin so we can compost all of the waste,” Hootman said. “And then that will make more soil for the following years.”

Hootman said the students have been helpful throughout the project.

“I don’t even know that they realized what they’ve done,” she said. “It’s a huge undertaking to put it together. It’s fantastic.” 

The project is about taking care of the Earth, Hootman said.

“Even if they don’t use [gardening] right now, they’ll have a background and foundation,” Hootman said. “So one day, maybe when they have their own family, they can start their own garden.”

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