Lakewood Ranch High begins a community garden.
A year ago, an empty lot on Lakewood Ranch High School’s campus by the barn was a space for the cows to roam.
It also was a spot for weeds.
Now, agriculture students harvest vegetables grow plants in the school’s new community garden.
“It’s been a dream of mine to do something with that land because as we know, land is valuable,” agriculture teacher Janyel Taylor said. “It’s been vacant for a while. To see that [community garden] grow gives me goose bumps.”
The agriculture department started working on the garden in the 2020 spring semester. Working with the school’s engineering classes, students were able to build the boxes to hold the plants.
Agriculture students began planting seeds, but the garden was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the pandemic caused several adjustments, the students are back at work in the garden this semester.
Saige Freitag, a senior, said the field is different than a year ago, when it was just weeds, and that has caused excitement among the students.
“It’s a lot of fun to me,” she said. “I’ve always liked planting. … I know a little bit [about planting], but Ms. Taylor has taught me a lot.”
Students say they have learned a lot by working in the garden including lessons on trial and error, the science of agriculture, integrated pest management, what is a good harvest size and when to harvest certain crops.
Freitag learned how to care for plants when there’s a cold snap along with keeping pests away.
Taylor said learning about agriculture is important because the industry is “still alive and well in Manatee County.”
“Lakewood Ranch is centered in development, so [the students] don’t necessarily drive by the farms anymore,” she said. “They can learn the process and learn how to appreciate production and become more educated consumers.”
About 200 students have participated in making the garden a reality whether that meant building, planting, harvesting or maintaining the garden. About 75 students are consistently in the garden each week.
Students already have harvested radishes, turnips, collard greens, mustard greens, beans and squash. Students planted strawberries in the first week of November that should be ready soon. In the greenhouse, students germinated leeks, mini broccoli, sugar peas, Swiss chard and spinach.
“I love seeing them go from just seeds to actually something you can eat,” Freitag said. “Harvesting is one of my favorite parts because you see what you’ve done, and you know what you’ve grown. It’s just rewarding.”
The students have given produce to teachers and hope for donations to the Future Farmers of America program.
Some students have found that the garden relieves stress.
“It’s just relaxing to go, work in the garden, get your hands dirty and engage with nature,” Taylor said.