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Westmont HS garden project yielding benefits in classroom, cafeteria

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 11:53 a.m. CDT
(Bill Ackerman -
Cassidy Baltierra, 15, a student in the Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) class, picks swiss chard in the vegetable garden that class members have planted on Monday at Westmont High School. Bill Ackerman -
(Bill Ackerman -
Missy Fregeau, 16, a student in the Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) class, picks cucumbers in the vegetable garden that class members have planted Monday at Westmont High School. Bill Ackerman -

WESTMONT – With the school year in full swing, Westmont High School’s garden project already has produced about 300 pounds of produce, said Lisa Hootman, an environmental science teacher at the school.

Hootman’s students have been busy harvesting the garden, which has produced green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and more.

“The students have been working with the garden one day a week,” Hootman said. “We go out and harvest during class time, and the environmental club goes out Mondays to harvest, as well.”

And students are not only benefiting from learning how to create and maintain a garden, they’re also getting fresh produce with their lunches as a result. Veggies harvested now are used in the Westmont High School cafeteria with various side dishes.

“So far we’ve had the green beans and they made pickles out of the cucumbers,” senior Missy Fregeau said. “And then last week we [the students] did get to make zucchini bread.

“It’s pretty cool because everything has grown organically with no pesticides,” Fregeau, who plans to major in biology in college. “I was there when we planted the seeds in little pots and then we grew them into sprouts… now we’ve seen them grow from seeds into food.”

When the garden project began in February, Hootman reached out to friends, family and people in the community in hopes of receiving donations to create the garden.

Liftomatic, a Buffalo Grove-based manufacturer ofmaterial handling equipment for drum and barrel handling applications, heard of Hootman’s project and decided to donate $500 to the garden.

The company reached out to show the students that many things are involved in gardening, including manufacturing, according to Todd Berg, CEO and President of Liftomatic.

“Even the way we get fed involves manufacturing,” Berg said. “Every bit of tomato in this country that goes into Prego or Ragu went in the fiber drums.”

Berg, who happens to be Hootman’s uncle, said Liftomatic’s marketing department was in agreement that this was a good way to reach out to younger people.

“What we hope for is to reach out to young people and help them understand the big picture,” Berg said. “Our goal was to help out with the project and to make kids understand that there’s a bunch of things involved here.”

On Thursday, Berg and other representatives from the company will officially present the donation to Hootman and students.

The donated funds will be used for purchasing plants for the garden, buying more cedar for the raised beds and a soaker hose system for better watering, according to Hootman.

Berg, a gardener himself, said he hopes the students gain a sense of accomplishment from the garden project.

“Gardening gives them a connection to the earth and knowing more about where the food comes from,” Berg said. “Sometimes it’s a struggle but it gives you a sense of victory, seeing the seed grow into something to eat.”

“It’s good for everyone to know where their food comes from,” Fregeau added. “I’d like to see more kids get involved. It’s not just our garden, it’s the whole school’s garden. And it’s good for the entire school, everyone benefits.”

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