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Gardens become school classrooms

ommunity gardens have become classrooms for several schools in the archdiocese, including St. Mary School in Bellevue and Creighton Preparatory School and Roncalli Catholic High School, both in Omaha.

Lessons the gardens provide include stewardship, responsibility, caring for others and healthful eating, say the people involved.

Students at St. Mary’s Budding Botanists Club, for example, are learning how to be good stewards of the earth at their 4-by-8-foot plot in a new community garden just a few blocks north of the school, established by the Columban Fathers in Bellevue, said Ted Menzel, who helps with the club and the Columban Fathers garden.

Mostly third- through sixth-graders planted tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs – pizza ingredients – in their plot, one of 25 at the community garden. And like their fellow community gardeners, the 25 students will share a portion of their harvest with the Bellevue Food Pantry and the food pantry at Catholic Charities’ Juan Diego Center.

Club members and their families will water and weed the garden over the summer, a commitment that teaches children responsibility, said Menzel, a retired teacher. The Budding Botanists, founded in fall 2012, also help beautify the school grounds.

Participants in the Junior Green Jays at Prep have learned through their garden work that Catholic social justice includes caring for creation and each other, especially the poor and vulnerable, said theology teacher Kathy O’Keefe, club moderator.

Since Prep’s club began about four years ago, the students have given peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, potatoes and other produce to their families, the Jesuit community at Prep and the homeless at Siena/Francis House in Omaha. The 15 members also have sold some of their vegetables at school lunchtime to help fund the club, O’Keefe said.

The food is grown in four raised 20-by-6-foot garden beds in a yard adjacent to Prep and owned by the school.

A new community garden at Roncalli will provide lessons in faith, science, healthful eating, cooking and preserving food, Roncalli President Jeff Dempsey said. The school planted its first community garden this spring – with funding and help from the Omaha Men’s Garden Club – near new pond and prayer gardens on the campus.

Roncalli has four garden beds raised 2 feet off the ground, each 4-by-16 feet, and a non-raised 20-by-20-foot area.

About 20 students planted herbs, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, lettuce, onions, potatoes, asparagus and more to use in culinary arts classes. The school also hopes to have enough to supplement the school lunch program and help families in need, Dempsey said.