Cultivating the Madonna Learning Center garden

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The Madonna Learning Center Garden began as an idea to give our students an opportunity to understand more about the foods they eat and the process of how those foods end up in our stores.

Benefits not only encompassed knowledge of the process but actually working in the dirt and planting can be very therapeutic for our students with special needs.

Many Madonna students had never experienced getting their hands in soil or tasting homegrown vegetables.

After the collective input from teachers, garden experts and local businesses, our space was designed. With the efforts of hundreds of generous volunteers from across the city and nation and funding from organizations such as the Lichterman Lowenberg Foundation, a greenhouse was constructed, and planter boxes built.

Pots, soil, herb containers, birdhouses, and greenhouse materials were donated along with several plants. This incredible outdoor classroom became a reality.

While the construction of the garden was taking place, our students were busy planting the seeds in their classrooms.

They watched in fascination as they began to grow under special lighting.

They measured the heights and documented their similarities and differences and continued to nurture them in preparation for planting.

The art class painted river rocks as a decorative element to place in the garden. Students raised butterflies from caterpillars and released them into the garden. As the flowers bloomed, the students picked them and made arrangements in vases as centerpieces for our Spring volunteer luncheon celebration.

During the summer months the herbs were harvested. The adult program trainees crushed the herbs and made Italian blend seasoning which they packaged and sold at our in-house Monarch Market.

They used the seasoning in some of our casseroles which are also prepared in-house and sold through our Monarch Market.

Supervisors and teachers helped the students learn the different ways to cook and eat the variety of vegetables grown in the garden. The watermelons were sliced and shared, with everyone experiencing how “yummy and sweet” they tasted.

Through the year, students experimented with the sensory garden learning about the different textures and smells.

In the fall, they harvested Casper pumpkins and used them for Halloween decorations. We added wind chimes, whimsical pots, water features, and artwork to the garden expanding the various senses.

Chirping birds began to take up residence culminating in an incredible first year of the MLC Garden.

As we entered our second season in early March, the Germantown Garden Club hosted a garden prep day. Stations were set up for students to rotate and learn more about bluebirds, bugs, seeds and the life cycle of plants and insects. Students learned about the “good bugs” found in gardens and the role they play in helping our plants grow. They were intrigued by the small bluebird eggs found in the nest, the smells of the fresh picked plants, and the feel of the soil and seeds in their hands.

Experiencing firsthand the variety and sizes of the seeds was a wonderful way for our students to see the beginning stages of a plant.

Our art class taught them how to recognize and draw a variety of insects. They tasted a variety of vegetables (some for the first time) along with foods that contain herbs and spices, such as whole grain bread and herb dipping seasoning.

The pandemic hit mid-March and the school had to be closed, but our wonderful volunteers ensured our garden didn’t suffer. Trays were taken to homes, watered and nurtured until the plants were ready to transplant back into the garden.

One of our dedicated volunteer families, the Edwards, along with the Germantown Garden Club have done an incredible job in helping to maintain the garden for the return of our students in August.

Students and parents drive to the school and walk the garden to see how it has grown.

When the children return to school, we look forward to once again harvesting, tasting and cooking with the variety of plants which began as seeds! During the “stay at home” phase, it was comforting knowing we had taught the children and staff how to harvest seeds and learning there was an alternative to relying on store bought food.

The garden has an abundance of herbs and vegetables that we plan to harvest and sell at our annual market this November.

Our birdhouses have become the birthplace of babies, bumble bees and butterflies can be found humming around the flowers and the smells of the garden fill the air.

Students and their families have begun planting their own gardens at home with the skills and knowledge they learned through participating in our MLC garden.

MLC extends its sincere thanks and appreciation to the many volunteers and organizations that grew an idea into a full-bloom reality. Thank you for loving us and helping us learn in a whole new way.