Medora ag students share what they grow with school



Before this school year, Jonathan Cobb hadn’t eaten eggplant.

Since the Medora High School cafeteria staff recently incorporated it into a couple of recipes for students at lunch, the senior has taken a liking for the unique purple vegetable.

“I had never tried it before, and I thought it was pretty good,” he said.

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Making it even more satisfying is knowing he and other students in agriculture classes had a hand in growing the vegetable in the school’s new grow lab.

“Hard work pays off,” he said. “For me, I’ve had fun doing it. I’d recommend it to other students to try ag classes if they like it.”

Agriculture classes, taught by Ashley Shoemaker, started at Medora in the 2018-19 school year. The 10 students in a horticulture class discussed how horticulture could meet needs in the community since it’s a food desert, which is an area that has limited access to fresh food.

They introduced the problem-based learning project to Principal Austin Skutnik and then moved forward with designing the garden and determining what they would like to grow. Shoemaker’s father-in-law and husband taught the students how to build all of the garden boxes.

A few of the students presented the project to Superintendent Roger Bane and the five school board members and also shared information with potential sponsors in hopes of receiving funding for materials.

“This really has been their thing since the beginning,” Shoemaker said of the students. “This also goes back to our STEM initiative in trying to get these kids to think and problem solve. That whole mindset will continue now that we are in the garden, so now, they are troubleshooting different ideas, ‘OK, how’s this going to work if this is what we’ve got?’ things like that.”

The 18 students in the summer supervised agricultural experience class took on the grow lab as their project.

With the wet spring, though, they weren’t able to plant until the first weekend of July. Typically, Shoemaker said planting would have been done in May.

Students in her animal science and introduction to agriculture classes have been picking various types of peppers and tomatoes along with eggplant, sweet potatoes, strawberries and cabbage.

So far, head cook Becky Starr and her staff have made roasted eggplant with Parmesan, roasted eggplant with mozzarella, pasta salad with vegetables, tossed salad and salsa to serve at lunch for all students, from elementary to high school, to try.

“They love the tossed salad. They love the salsa. Pasta salad, too. Not so much the eggplant,” Starr said, smiling. “That’s one of those things that’s an acquired taste.”

Whether they like the food or not, Starr said it’s good for students to try new things.

“It gives them a chance to try different things, which they would never do if I just put it out there to them. They would never try it. They would turn their nose up,” she said. “But if I take it to them and say, ‘This is what you guys grew,’ they are more apt to try it. You would be surprised at what they try, which they would normally never, ever try.”

As the students grow other vegetables and fruits the rest of the school year, Starr said she will come up with different concoctions.

Sophomore Tori Murphin said it has been interesting to hear feedback from other students at school.

“They like the newness of it and how fresh it is,” she said. “I think it’s good because we’re giving back to our community. We get to enjoy what we did and worked hard for.”

Cobb agreed, saying you never know if you like something until you try it.

“I think it teaches us to try new things, and it will help us in the future to help our community and help our neighbors,” he said.

Shoemaker said the grow lab offers many benefits to her students. They are responsible for planting and tending to the plants.

“It makes me really proud, especially being in a community where two years ago, we didn’t have anything here,” she said.

They went from being hesitant about presenting their ideas to school officials to speaking up for what they want to do and what they need to make it happen.

“Some of those pros of being in a small school where our kids do get to take initiative and do things and come up with ideas,” Shoemaker said.

The high school students also have shared their knowledge with elementary students, and kids involved in the Reach for a Star after-school program will be helping with watering the garden.

“It’s just building that relationship between our high school and elementary school that a lot of places don’t get to,” Shoemaker said. “It’s cool that we, being a small school, get to do that. Our kids get to interact.”

The plan is to build a greenhouse behind the grow lab, which is across the street from the school building at the corner of Riley and George streets.

Donations for materials are still being accepted.

“Money is tight in any school, so just being able to do it is awesome in this community and for our kids,” Shoemaker said.

Next summer, she said the hope is to incorporate the food they grow into the summer lunch program that’s offered for students and the community.

Again, Shoemaker praised the students for their work in making the garden grow.

“It was really the kids’ idea,” she said. “I had thought we could do a garden and plant stuff and we’re going to build a greenhouse. They came up with other ideas and have grown it from what we’ll do. They really have done all of this work.”

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Anyone interested in making a donation toward Medora Community Schools’ new grow lab and greenhouse may contact Superintendent Roger Bane at 812-966-2210.


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