Assignment: Education – Garden opportunities expand

Four local organizations brought their expertise to the table to help provide a new learning environment for students in the Hamilton school building.

GROW La Crosse provides garden education at four different sites in the La Crosse School District. And now the purchase of a vacant city lot may allow the organization to expand what they’re teaching students at Hamilton.

“We have absolutely maximized this space,” said Jamie O’Neill, Executive Director for GROW La Crosse. “As you can see, we’re growing things up the fence and in raised beds, and we tried to get as much stuff in this space as possible.”

With the population of the school growing, organizers of the garden program want to grow, too.

“The number of kids that are at this school could definitely use more produce for their cafeteria and for their lessons,” said O’Neill.

In order to continue connecting students with food and nature, garden organizers say the new lot is essential for the program.

“They are looking to expand this school,” said O’Neill. “And it’s proposed to actually be expanded into this current space. And if that happens, unfortunately, we’ll lose access to this garden, potentially forever. But for sure for that whole year they’re doing construction.”

But a partnership helped plant the seeds for a new opportunity to help the garden lessons grow.

“We all bring something unique to the table,” said Cinthia Shireman, sustainability coordinator for Mayo Clinic Health System.

Mayo Clinic Health System, Shelter Development, and the School District combined their strengths with GROW La Crosse to hopefully create a new learning space.

“We bought this lot knowing 100 percent that it was for GROW La Crosse to use it,” said Chuck Berendes, Shelter Development officer.

Shelter Development is a non-profit organization that helps other non-profits with their real estate needs.

“In this case, GROW was looking for a place to have a garden, but then the prospect of purchasing real estate, kind of a lot of times, freezes non-profits,” said Berendes.

Shelter Development received a grant from Organic Valley to buy land kitty-corner from Hamilton, and rezone the lot to be used as a semi-public garden space to teach students.

“We hope to rent it to them for $1 a year,” said Berendes.

And with the help of corporate sponsor Mayo Clinic Health System, GROW La Crosse will have the necessary funding to keep the program up and running.

“We are going to be sponsoring this specific garden,” said Shireman. “It is in our neighborhood. These are the patients in our community.”

“So all of those key players are really essential to making this project work,” said O’Neill.

GROW La Crosse plans to host a groundbreaking ceremony and ribbon cutting Thursday, October 19, at 3:15 p.m., on the lot located at 807 Johnson Street.