A project that began over seven years ago came back to life on Thursday morning at Martin Luther King High School in West Oak Lane. The school’s greenhouse and farm, already full of kale, berries, herbs, tomatoes and potatos, was officially inaugurated.
After the garden fell “by the wayside” for a number of years, special education teachers at the school expressed interest in using the overgrown space for their students, according to Jill Fink, executive director of Weavers Way Community Programs, which helped to implement a curriculum.
That started up a conversation on how Weavers Way Community Programs can help to develop the farm into something more for the special-needs population at the school, which includes autistic students and students who are in emotional support, learning support or life skills support.
They reached out to Althea McDonald, a therapist who was in the midst of working on a horticultural therapy certificate. She created a program that is particularly mindful of helping students develop fine and gross motor skills, listening skills and the ability work to side-by-side and follow multi-step directions.
“She helped us develop this into a program with defined therapeutic benefits,” said Fink.
Work on the space, now called Hope Farm, began last summer. Students have already been able to reap the benefits of some of their work.
“We’ve done a full seed-to-plate lesson,” said Fink. “They planted spinach, they tended it, watched it grow, harvested it and then made a spinach salad.”
Organizers hope that the harvested vegetables will eventually be used in the school’s culinary program, making for a truly “local” experience for students.
The students will spend much of the summer working with Weavers Way staff to continue tending the garden. Weavers Way Community Program and the school hope to raise enough money to build an pavilion in the garden to use as an outdoor classroom.
Amy Zymanski, a life skills teacher at MLK High School, said the program has already been beneficial to her students.
“They are getting so much stronger,” she said. “They seem to get so much more relaxed when they are out there, they just feel alive.”
Jonathan Watson, a student who is in the program, said his favorite part of working in the garden is being able to experience the benefits first hand.
“Whenever a little something-something comes through, they cut it up for us and let us try it,” said Watson. “That feels really good.”