West Carrollton High School~ Ohio

Not all Katie’s Krops gardens are grown in backyards. Sometimes they are community-based at a church or school. One such garden is the Pirate’s Patch; named after the school mascot, it’s located on the grounds of West Carrollton High School, just south of Dayton, Ohio, and is where students from the school raise food guided by Judi Brooks. Judi is officially the Computer Lab Coordinator but incorporates her love of gardening and love of students into teaching the students about growing vegetables and helping the community.

The garden got its start several years ago when Judi and Lori Balazs, a colleague at the school, were interested in creating a garden where students could experience growing vegetables and use the garden as a community service for the students to raise and donate to the homeless in Dayton. Science teacher Mike Newman was familiar with Katie’s Krops from his time in Summerville, SC, the organization’s hometown, joined in and challenged his students to write essays to use for applying for the first Katie’s Krops grant. Using the funds from the first grant, Mike and his students planted radish seeds in the classroom, experimenting with different growing methods, and later transplanted them in the Pirate’s Patch. A couple of years later, Judi assumed the leadership role and has worked with student and community members to continue the work in the garden through Katie’s Krops.

Various students are generally involved with the garden, including Environmental Science students, the National Honor Society (NHS), football and volleyball teams, and anyone interested in growing food. Unfortunately, this past growing season was not “normal” due to Covid19. All West Carrollton’s students had 100% remote/hybrid learning, so they were not able to help in the gardens. Darn Covid! That did not deter Judi and others. They continued growing to provide over 1,000 pounds (a garden record) of fresh vegetables to the St. Vincent de Paul shelter to feed their residents. This included pumpkins, squash, tomatoes (from plants provided by Proven Winner), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, kale, beans, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, celery, radishes, turnips, and various varieties of lettuce.

In addition to helping feed the community, an important goal of Katie’s Krops, the garden provides many educational opportunities while building unique relationships for both the students and adults. Students have an opportunity to learn how food is grown and how it tastes fresh from the plant/vine without the use of chemicals. Some are leery of digging in the dirt and getting their hands in the soil, especially when it gets under their nails, but when a student harvested a 5-pound sweet potato in 2018, it was “game on” to see what everyone else could find in hopes of topping that weight. They’ve learned that as the growing season ends, you can pick the green tomatoes and let them ripen indoors as well as make a cake with them, which Judi did. They enjoyed eating it and were a bit disbelieving when they found out what was in it after they finished and had requested another one.

The students learn other skills too. They are responsible for weighing and photographing the produce as it’s harvested, entering the amounts in a spreadsheet. By analyzing the results, they learn what was most and least productive, providing the information they need to decide what is best to plant during the next growing season.

Pirate’s Patch is a 24 by 78-foot area of raised beds constructed of cinder blocks, including footpaths to reach all crops. Trellises using PVC pipes allow for vertical gardening, and even the holes in the cinder blocks are used to grow root vegetables and lettuce. Many large pots lining the walkway provide more growing opportunities. A new high school will be built within the next few years, and plans are being developed for a new greenhouse and space for gardening. In the meantime, cold frames and adding more vertical growing areas are the immediate goals for the current garden.

The Connie Sue Parsons Memorial Butterfly Garden, located in the school’s courtyard and created in memory of a school secretary, provides additional learning opportunities as the students experience the life cycle of butterflies. The students are able to observe all four stages of the butterfly’s life, from an egg to a caterpillar to a chrysalis and finally to the emergence of the butterfly. Environmental Science students receive their own eggs to care for and observe. A butterfly cage in the school library’s media center provides an additional indoor opportunity for any student or staff member who is interested in observing the process.

The students are currently learning through a hybrid model of 2 days at school and three days remotely, so the hope and plan is that they will once again be involved in the garden this coming growing season.