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by Heidi Busse

Madison, Wisc. – When students get to work in a garden, good things happen. An empty lot is transformed into edible fields, students learn job skills that connect them with their agrarian heritage and fresh produce is harvested for the local food pantry.

These are just a few of the benefits that students at Madison East High School are learning and sharing with the community. This summer, Goodman Community Center. If successful, their goal is to create a new model for high school agriculture education.

“When we started [this spring], there was nothing planted here,” says Megan Cain, East High Farm Manager. Now this 5-acre plot is a lush vegetable garden, a mosaic of newly tilled vegetable beds. The land was originally donated to the Madison School District in the 1950s by a retiring dairy farmer. The school district built an elementary school on the land, but kept 5 acres of woods and green space to use as a demonstration site for their agriculture program. When I walk the land and see the stands of edible fruit trees and wildflower prairie that stand among the newly planted vegetable beds, I can’t help but dwell for a moment on the hard work and dreams that have been put into this place long before the students started farming this summer.

East High’s agriculture program has been eliminated – other programs have higher priority and more interest – but the district has kept the land as a community gardening site. The pressure to transform the site into something of value weighs heavy, because the district would benefit from the profits of selling the land. So this summer, Community GroundWorks came in to help the district realize the farm’s educational potential and provide jobs to East High students and Native American youth.