Grabbing a piece of white gauzy fabric, Olivia Degitz slowly peels it away from the tender plants growing below. Crouching down, Degitz plucks a couple of weeds from the ground before finding what she is looking for – strawberries. With harvest still several weeks away, the strawberries are bright green and plentiful.
“Wow, these look great,” said Roger Spaulding as he carefully gathers a couple of the strawberries in his hand to show Degitz. “They’re going to be really big.”
The two Metro Early College High School students diligently pull weeds as they listen to their botany teacher, Neal Bluel, and Kat Deaner, an Ohio State University graduate student, discuss the pros and cons of putting down black plastic weed barriers in gardens. Based on the results of last year’s garden, they conclude that plastic is best for plants that grow upright such as strawberries and not as effective for viney plants such as sweet potatoes. This type of observation-conclusion is all part of the learning process of Metro’s Growing America Farmers Market program, which teaches the high school students how to grow produce and how to run a farmers market.
“The harvesting is exciting because you get to see all the hard work you did,” said Metro student Elizabeth Roche.
The program is a collaboration between Ohio State University and Metro, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based high school founded and supported by Ohio State University and Battelle Institute. The idea for the program came from Bluel and the PAST (Partnering Anthropology with Science and Technology) Foundation, a nonprofit group that works with Ohio’s STEM schools.
The initiative started last year when Ohio State created a student-run farm on its Waterman Farm near the Columbus campus. Ohio State and Metro students get hands-on experience planting, harvesting and distributing the food. Some of the produce goes back to the university where it is sold to Campus Dining Services and to the Blackwell Inn, an on-campus hotel and conference facility. During the summer, Metro students sell the freshly harvested fruits and vegetables at a farmers market that they set up in the school parking lot just down the road from the farm.
“We started out with the idea of just doing a vegetable stand but it evolved into a full-blown farmers market,” Bluel said.
Jack McClintock is one of four Metro students who helped get the farmers market off the ground last year. Working on the farm was a new experience for McClintock – he lives in a condominium and had never grown his own fruits and vegetables.
“It’s very laborious but enjoyable work,” he said of planting and tending to crops. “When it comes to horticulture and crops, they’ve got their own tricks of the trade like any other business and you have to learn how to do it right.”
McClintock’s main task for the project was communications – getting vendors to participate in the farmers market and to publicize the market. The cost for vendors, who sold not only produce but other items such as ice cream, beef and pottery, was $15 for a single market day, $25 for two market days and $12.50 for each additional market day. The vendor fees went to Metro High School and were used to help fund the school’s robotics team. The high school students also ran a booth where they sold produce from the Ohio State farm with the proceeds used for supplies on the farm.
The original plan was to have four market days on Saturdays during the summer but the project was such a success that it was extended two more weeks.
“I was surprised by how many people showed up,” McClintock said. “We had hoped it would succeed but had no idea what would happen. We had so many people coming, and they loved the vendors.”
The farmers market concept appealed to McClintock because he plans to major in business and wants to start his own business. Starting the farmers market from the ground up gave him a real sense of entrepreneurship.
“It was a lot of work, keeping up with the communications, getting to know people and keeping your head screwed on straight and spreading the tasks to other people,” he said.
The Growing America project also provided the students with service hours, which they need to graduate from Metro. In the first year, the high school and college students logged about 8,000 service hours, Bluel said. Between 60 and 80 students are involved in the project, many during the summer when they do a one-week session where they help maintain the farm, harvest the crop and run the farmers market.
“It’s interesting to not only see how food is grown but how much work goes into it every day,” Roche said. “It’s a lot of work to go from seed to harvest.”
Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Franklin County.
Attention teachers and parents: See how this story connects to Ohio’s academic content standards.
GROWING AMERICA FARMERS MARKET
Metro High School parking lot,
1929 Kenny Road, Columbus