Ashby creates garden of opportunity and experience
By Katherine Gathje
Guest blogger and Eden Valley-Watkins FFA Member
Ashby School District agriculture instructor and FFA advisor had an idea a few years ago to make his instruction more hands on. His vivid idea is now a garden which doubles as a food source and instruction tool for the students in the PreK-12 school. Dustin Steenblock is the agriculture instructor at Ashby High School, his love of agriculture started young. The upbringing on his parent’s farm helped him get where he is and wants to give students some of those same opportunities.
The Ashby School garden complex is comprised of a 100 foot x 100 foot garden, a 30 foot x 36 foot high tunnel, and eight raised garden beds for community use. There are also composting systems and storage, prairie garden raised beds, and a 24 tree apple and plum orchard. To top it off, there is an outdoor classroom consisting of raised vegetable garden beds, rain collection system, and a 10 foot x 20 foot indoor grow/starter room. All of this is managed by the students and Steenblock.
“We give the kids the opportunity to help them find what they are going to succeed in life,” said Steenblock.
The majority of the work done with the gardens is by the sustainable agriculture class offered to the students. The class curriculum was developed and added to the high school schedule for the 2011-2012 school year in a trial, semester-long course. The class has been popular and has continued to be offered by the district ever since. Instruction includes multiple forms of learning and settings. Units of the course were very encompassing and included skills for small scale production and processing of goods, with a heavy concentration on vegetables, as
well as focusing on creating and the benefits of a fresh, local, and healthy food supply.
Steenblock said the classes work to provide as much of the produce to the students and staff as possible. Some of the plants like their tomatoes will not start growing until the late summer and fall that way more students can help with the harvesting and preserving. Other produce is planted in the spring, and what cannot be preserved for the next school year is sold at local farmers markets and brought to the food shelf.
The school is able to maintain their hands on learning by having all the students PreK-12 in one building. There are about 20 students per grade keeping the teacher student ratio low. As for FFA, their successful program includes about 50 members from grades 8-12.
Over 260 Students, 40 staff, and eight community garden families are directly impacted by the program and gardens. Students and staff create a sustainable, local food supply on school grounds by taking ownership in the entire process of growing the food. One of Steenblock’s favorite aspects of gardening is seeing the tiny seed planted eight weeks ago bloom into something that will eventually provide nourishment for others. This produce, partially processed by students, creates a healthy supplement to meals and snacks served at school.
The garden site also supplements instruction in every grade of the school. A large portion of that is for K-2 and 11-12. This instruction focuses on aspects of vegetable planting, growth, maintenance, insect relationships, processing, and consumption with the greatest benefits coming from the hands-on experiences.