Most Columbia residents start planting their vegetable gardens in April, but for Lower Richland High School students, it will be a time of economic harvest. On April 14 at Soda City Market from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. – in partnership with EngenuitySC and local sustainability-focused garden center Gardener’s Outpost – students will have their own booth selling vegetable seedlings they’ve tended to in the school greenhouse since mid-winter.
Although schools across the country have reintroduced gardening to their curriculum over the past decade, Lower Richland High School’s LifeCycle Sustainability Program, recently featured by Saveur magazine for its innovative nature, is a 100% self-sustaining, student-led program, supported by project management at EngenuitySC.
The process, which is managed by students under the guidance of a staff champion, works as follows:
Food scraps from the cafeteria are reduced to tiny pellets in a 2,200-pound food waste dehydrator and fed into a vermiculture system that uses live worms to produce high-grade fertilizer. This fertilizer is then used in the school’s greenhouse, powered by solar panels, as well as in outdoor gardens in the school’s courtyard.
Introduced in 2014 and launched publicly in spring of 2015, the program is made possible through the district’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) programming, in partnership with EngenuitySC.
For 2018, EngenuitySC welcomed a new mentor to the program, Randall Isherwood, owner of local plant nursery Gardener’s Outpost in Shandon. It is the relationship with Isherwood that led to the opportunity at Soda City Market, where students will sell six varieties of tomato, two varieties of eggplant and six varieties of pepper for $3 per plant.
Since most crops ripen over the summer, when school is not in session, Isherwood proposed the idea of using seedlings as the “harvest,” with the final product being the earnings from the farmer’s market, which will help fund next year’s work. Gardener’s Outpost hosts their own booth at Soda City Market, which sees thousands of visitors each Saturday morning along Main Street in downtown Columbia. On April 14, Lower Richland High School will set up and manage an adjoining booth, where they hope to sell out their inventory.
“The introduction of an entrepreneurial component to the sustainability endeavor really closes the loop on the entire process,” says EngenuitySC Project Manager Laura Ros, who oversees the collaboration. “Over the past few years, students gained a deep appreciation for the parameters of soil and climate. Now they also have a deeper understanding and respect for the parameters of seasonal demand and markets.”
Says Isherwood, “I have enjoyed exposing the students to incredible varieties in produce and ornamental flowers that they may have never seen before. In the greenhouse, they’re growing six varieties of tomato, six varieties of pepper and two types of eggplant. The raised beds have four species of sunflower. Every item they plant is intentional and serves a purpose, and I am thrilled to be a part of the program.”
Read more about EngenuitySC’s current initiatives here: http://www.engenuitysc.com/initiatives/