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Lake County students get their hands dirty

Fifth-grade teacher Tom Frericks shows William Kelley kindergartners how to plant strawberry plants. Student-tended gardens at the school, which were first installed in 2009, are growing rapidly with Frericks' support. They grow close to a dozen varieties of vegetables, strawberries and raspberries. Photo by Michelle Ketola.1 / 3
William Kelley fifth-grader Jordyn Bjerkness works hard shoveling dirt for a new strawberry patch on school grounds. Students tend the gardens during the fall and spring and sell the produce, learning about agriculture and business. Photo by Michelle Ketola.2 / 3
Two Harbors ninth-graders Justin Vangerpen and Tyler Estby, members of Kyle Chalupsky's industrial tech class, screw boards together for the new garden at Two Harbors High School. Funded by a grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program, the garden will be built this fall and winter and the first crops will be planted next spring. Photo by LaReesa Sandretsky.3 / 3

A group of students walked out of Two Harbors High School early Tuesday morning with spades, power drills and planks of wood. They weren't planning an elaborate heist or disguising themselves as construction workers to cut class; they were working on the school's garden.

The introduction to industrial technology class is working with Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) coordinator Leah Bott to build a garden behind THHS. SHIP is a program of the Minnesota Department of Health that works to make healthy living easier across the state.

"The students were so excited this morning," Bott said Monday.

Four years ago, William Kelley School in Silver Bay installed a similar garden thanks to a SHIP grant, and fifth-grade teacher Tom Frericks said it really has taken off. His students haven't just tended the garden, they've learned all aspects of planting and selling produce.

"They know how to harvest; they know how to sell; they did a little advertising, and they know how to give change," he said.

He said the hope is to integrate gardening into the curriculum of other classes, including high school.

Bott is shooting for something similar with the Two Harbors garden - in addition to the industrial tech students who built the garden, eighth-grade math students conducted the measurements and cooking classes are planning to use the produce to make snacks they'll sell at school.

"We've had a lot of teachers interested," Bott said.

An added bonus, Bott said, is that when students have a hand in growing their food, they tend to make healthier choices.

"There are a lot of kids who (experience a) disconnect between their lives and food," Bott said. "The evidence has shown that if they're part of raising it, they're more likely to eat it."

Frericks has experienced the same thing with his fifth-graders - he said they love eating the vegetables they've grown and are surprised by how delicious they are.

"The stuff that's there, it's amazing. They really like the food," he said.

The Two Harbors garden won't produce any vegetables until next summer, but the SHIP grant also allotted money for a fence and a shed that students will build throughout the winter and spring.

Students will be working on the garden all week and community members will have the chance to get their hands dirty this weekend. A community build day will be held on Saturday, 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. with lunch provided by AGE to Age, a program of the Northland Foundation aiming to increase intergenerational interaction in Two Harbors.

At the build day, community members will finish any final light construction, fill the raised beds with dirt and plant an inaugural clove of garlic.

In addition to the garden project, Bott will be implementing some more SHIP initiatives this year. Wednesday was "Safe Routes to School" day, an effort to get more kids to walk to school, and a wellness coalition will convene later this year to review school health policies.

She has also piloted a partnership between Louise's Café in Two Harbors and the high school's athletic department. Instead of stopping at fast-food restaurants on the drive home from away games, sports teams now have the option to order and take along balanced meals from Louise's.

"It's a combination of eating healthier and getting back earlier," Bott said.

The next opportunity to get involved in the effort to make Lake County healthier will be Oct. 22, when the active living coalition will convene and discuss ways to increase activity in local communities.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141