Consuelo Krammerer, environmental responsibility teacher at Leslie Middle School, was born with a green thumb, but has worked hard to make sure each of her students earn one too.
Krammerer considers her love for growing a genetic heritage. Her great-grandfather was a farmer in Sicily, and her grandfather worked in produce for a grocery store in Portland. “I consider myself lucky to know how to grow quality vegetables, and I want to make sure these kids know where their food comes from.”
The garden project is not a new one for Krammerer. “I have had this garden for 15 years. In all the schools I have worked at, I have had a garden. It’s a way of life. I like to garden. I think it is important. I have always had a garden club after school, but this is my first year actually having a class.” About 40 kids take the environmental responsibility class, and anywhere between five and 20 kids participate in the after-school club.
The garden project consists of a greenhouse, raised bed gardens and a compost project that would be the envy of any plant enthusiast. The greenhouse is not up and running yet, but thanks to Pringle Creek Community the students have a designated greenhouse space and have been able to practice their growing skills year-round. Pringle Creek Community appreciates the help, and the opportunity to teach green practices.
“The students have helped us with our gardening needs. They helped us plant and harvest this year. We really do enjoy the partnership,” said Shannon Stewart, community coordinator for Pringle Creek Community. “We have some pretty big broccoli and cabbage that the kids have been growing. Leslie is just a six-minute walk from the classroom, so it is a great learning experience.”
“We garden in the winter. We have gotten a lot of herbs, broccoli and greens. In the summer, students come and help with the garden,” Krammerer said. “This year the church that uses our space is going to help us keep the garden growing and harvested over the summer,” she said.
Krammerer received a grant from the Edible Garden Project and Sodexo donated hundreds of dollars’ worth of tools to get the project started. “It took about $9,000 to get the project up and running,” said Krammerer.
During spring break, the greenhouse will be constructed and the students will spring into action with their own greenhouse. “We have been restoring old raised beds that are here at Leslie and using those to grow food for the kitchen. We have been able to add fresh student-grown food to the cafeteria line-up,” said Krammerer. She was quick to mention that she is taking untreated lumber donations, as raised beds are always needed.
A lot of the work happens outside, but inside the students have learned all about seeds and the science behind composting. “We do a lot of things in the classroom. Gardening is a lost art among kids; they are really learning a lot. There are probably two out of fifteen that have gardened with their family,” Krammerer said.
It’s a-hands-in-the-dirt type of class. “Today we are going to collect compost from the rooms, dig up some dead trees, turn the composters and then walk down to the Pringle greenhouses and water our starts,” Krammerer said.
The garden spaces supplement the cafeteria produce offerings and sometimes go home with the students. “We can contribute greens and herbs for salads. That really makes the students proud. Sometimes I take the food down to Pringle Creek and share it,” she said.
Compost contributes to the learning process, and the gardens. “Every day we collect compost from the kitchen,” Krammerer said. “The kitchen staff is a huge help. They sort the food waste and we are able to keep three 90-gallon composters full and generating quality compost,” Krammerer said. “In the past we have let the kids help sort, but it’s nice when the kitchen staff helps. We get less maggots and it’s less work that way.”
Compost helps keep the soil richer with nutrients and keeps costs down. “Doing our own compost really does help keep the costs down. We can make about 90 gallons of compost in one month,” said Krammerer.
At some point in time the program hopes to start generating its own funding. “We can make money with plant sales; we can sell compost; once we get our greenhouse up and running maybe we can have a plant sale and see how it goes,” Krammerer said.