Farm Horizons, April 2015

School horticulture programs teach students gardening from the ground up

By Tara Mathews

Local schools have many opportunities for students to get down in the dirt. Horticulture classes, school gardens, and FFA programs give students who live within city limits or on a farm the ability to experience everything from planting and harvesting, to making floral arrangements and landscaping parks.

Many of the schools that have gardens give students the ability to sell produce they’ve grown and raise money for their organization.

Other schools donate flower arrangements to elderly community members, or complete landscaping projects as community service projects.

The programs teach students more than gardening and landscaping; students learn how to manage and raise funds, work as a team, market products, organize events, speak in public, and volunteer, along with the horticultural skills they develop.

“I definitely know more about plants now,” Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) FFA member Katie Utne commented. “My family always had a garden growing up, but now I know more about how and why the plants grow the way they do.”


Dassel-Cokato (DC) School District provides four horticulture classes to students, including horticulture, floriculture, landscaping, and College in the Schools horticulture.

The district has a 25-foot-by-40-foot greenhouse used for its classes.

In the horticulture class, students learn about basic plant science, such as plant parts, propagation, soil science, and plant health.

They grow more than 2,500 plants, that are then sold to community members during a plant sale each spring.

Students in the floriculture class learn to identify more than 120 flowers, then make floral arrangements for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and FFA week that are donated or sold.

“They take their knowledge from horticulture, and apply it to floral design,” DC agriculture instructor Eric Sawatzke stated.

The landscaping class provides students the ability to apply their learning in a real setting through developing landscapes in the community.

Students evaluate landscape sites and create plans for a landscape design that will best utilize the space around homes and schools or in parks.

“Then, they get to the real hands-on work, and actually install their landscape plans,” Sawatzke commented.

The College in the Schools horticulture class gives students the ability to earn four University of Minnesota college credits, and teaches them how to create new plants through a wide variety of propagation techniques.

“Students taking this class apply biology principles to plant science, and learn some incredibly technical skills related to plant propagation,” Sawatzke said.

DC also provides an opportunity for students to volunteer help with its FFA Alumni crop plot, which is planted each year to raise money to help members attend camps and conferences.

“In the past, some FFA members have even used their own farm equipment to complete some of the tillage and planting,” Sawatzke noted.

Glencoe-Silver Lake

Glencoe-Silver Lake (GSL) School District currently participates in a farm-to-school program through a GSL FFA garden.

The GSL FFA garden is planted, maintained, and harvested by GSL FFA members, and is sponsored by Tangle Town Gardens. Its funding is provided by Rural Youth Development, Food For All, and State Health Improvement Program grants.

“Because of grants and generous local sponsorship, there has been no additional cost to the district to add the garden program,” GSL FFA advisor Rebekah Haddad noted.

The garden is open for anyone, and GSL FFA is currently partnering with GSL Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) and Special Education (SPED) departments to help with planting this spring and harvesting this fall, according to Haddad.

“The seventh grade agriculture classes are also extensively involved,” she added.

GSL’s garden will be starting its third season this year.

The first year, vegetables from the garden were sold at a local farmers market and donated to the GSL school cafeteria, as a land exchange and service project, she noted.

“Because of the year-round lunch program at GSL, produce will need to go into the school cafeteria throughout the growing season, with only occasional appearances at the farmers market,” Haddad stated.


Watertown-Mayer School District is working on revitalizing its school produce garden, according to FFA advisor James Kocherer.

“The high school garden was established in 2011, but there was a drought and only the pumpkins survived,” Kocherer said.

The district took time away from the garden program, but in the last two years, has started to bring it back, he added.

Kocherer has been working with a teacher at Watertown-Mayer Elementary school, Sara Marquette, to rejuvenate the program, and include elementary students in the garden this time.

Plant science students and FFA members assist the elementary students with planting, growing, and harvesting crops within the plot.

Watertown-Mayer FFA also granted the elementary horticulture program $500 to help get it started, Kocherer said.

“There are 77 acres in production for a crop plot,” Kocherer stated. “Hopefully, the spring isn’t as wet as it was last year.”

The wet spring last year resulted in low vegetable production for the Watertown-Mayer School garden, according to Kocherer.

“We had more raspberries and stuff than produce,” Kocherer noted.

He and Marquette have been looking into more horticulture and garden programs, and the possibility of joining a farmers market.

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted

Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School District provides five horticulture classes to students, including floriculture/greenhouse management, landscaping, horticulture, College in the Schools plant propagation, and exploring agriculture.

It has a 1.2-acre school garden, FFA crop plot, and provides produce for school lunches, as well.

“We provide students with a supervised agricultural experience, and the opportunity to gain practical experience in the horticulture field,” HLWW FFA advisor James Weninger commented.

Students in the floriculture/greenhouse class learn the basic fundamentals of floral design and operating a greenhouse. They coordinate a plant sale, and start the plants for the sale, which takes place Mothers Day weekend, Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9, 2015.

In the landscaping class, students learn basic landscape concepts and provide landscaping services to HLWW District and around the community.

“Most of the landscaping done around the school was done by students in the landscaping class,” HLWW FFA advisor Senna Glessing said.

The horticulture class provides students with a basic knowledge of gardening and horticulture, including plant parts, environmental factors, and plant nutrients.

“It’s sort of a basic course, students learn each area more in-depth when they take the other courses offered,” Glessing noted.

Its College in the Schools plant propagation class teaches students the biological concepts of horticulture, including how to create new plant species. Students are able to earn four University of Minnesota college credits through this class.

The exploring agriculture class introduces plant species to students, and briefly touches on the different qualities of plants.

All HLWW horticulture classes play a role in the school garden, according to Glessing.

The HLWW school garden is managed by students. Each student is given a role, such as garden manager, maintenance, planter, or harvester.

Students gain the knowledge and experience needed to run a garden or greenhouse, and get paid for working in the garden, according to Weninger.

HLWW FFA sells weekly and bi-weekly shares of its garden to community members.

By purchasing shares, members have the ability to pick up, or have delivered, a basket which includes vegetables and herbs from the garden, a recipe for cooking with those vegetables, and, sometimes, a home-baked snack.

“Last year, we made peach cobbler to include in the baskets,” HLWW FFA member Abbey Weninger said. “We got the fruit from local people.”

HLWW FFA is looking into the possibility of a high tunnel, which is a garden with a cover that enables planting and growing of produce earlier in the season, according to Weninger.

“We would be able to provide produce for school lunch for longer periods through the year,” Weninger noted. “For example, we would have lettuce this time of year because we can plant so much sooner.”

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