Boardman High garden club clears way for healthier eating

MacKenzie Kelso, a Boardman High School senior, pulls weeds from a courtyard at the school to prepare the space for vegetable and flower gardens. Kelso brought her two goats to the school Friday to eat poison ivy and other weeds. Staff photo / Sean Barron

BOARDMAN — An unused, overgrown and weed-filled rectangular space at Boardman High School is not necessarily being treated to an extreme makeover, but is in the beginning stages of receiving a healthier one.

“It’s been a forgotten garden and we are transforming it into the secret garden,” Natalie Winkle, the school’s food services director, said.

Winkle and several seniors who are members of a newly formed garden club spent several hours Friday morning and afternoon removing weeds in the first step of clearing the way to plant sustainable vegetable and flower gardens in the courtyard, which sits outside of the school’s central offices area.

To assist, senior MacKenzie Kelso brought two goats from her father’s Canfield farm to eat their way through the overgrowth.

“I got the goats last year at the (Canfield) Fair,” she said.

The goats were brought to eat weeds, including poison ivy that was growing up one side of the building, as a way to practice environmentally friendly ways to treat the space in lieu of applying pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals, Kelso said. She noted that poison ivy is harmless to the animals.

“I want to do environmental science, get a law degree and practice environmental law,” she said. Kelso added she hopes to attend Yale University or The Ohio State University, largely because of the latter’s environmental-science program.

Kelso, Winkle and several other garden club students intend to get rid of the weeds, then plant tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and arugula, all of which will be added to the lunch cafeteria’s menu in an effort to instill in the student body the importance of a diet consisting of fresh produce and vegetables and less processed foods.

“Vegetables grown locally have way more nutrients in them and are so much more beneficial for everybody,” Kelso said.

The courtyard has several magnolia trees along one side that will remain in place. It also has a few sets of steps that lead to the center of the area.

“I’d love to have an urban garden and replicate this on a much larger scale,” senior garden club member Finn Machuga said.

Machuga, who is in the school’s advanced-placement environment class, added that she wishes to major in environmental science or agriculture and one day help to develop urban gardens in places that lack appreciable green space.

She also is part of Boardman High’s Envirothon team, which is one of two such teams preparing to soon compete in the state finals at Defiance College in Defiance.

Seeds from other gardens will be transferred to the one in the courtyard, said Machuga, who also hopes to use mulch, manure and compost to improve the soil conditions that show the effects of the ongoing dry spell.

Tying into the garden concept is a self-contained hydroponics growing farm in Winkle’s office in which several varieties of lettuce as well as kale, arugula and green beans are growing. The unit, bought three or four months ago, has continuous water flow and nutrients that feed the roots and keep the vegetables as fresh as possible, Winkle said.

The larger, underlying idea behind converting the unused courtyard to healthful productivity lies in the long-lasting effects it can have on the students and staff, she said.

“They’re doing everything they can to make the world a better place. This is just one more step in the process,” Winkle said.

The club needs items that include mulch, decorative stones, birdhouses, garden tools, birdbaths, picnic tables and Adirondack chairs. To make a contribution, contact Winkle at 330-726-3410, or email her at natalie.winkle@boardmanschools.org.


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