Having mulch fun: KSU and elementary school students build gardens

MCAA Garden dc 13.jpg

Kennesaw State and elementary school students build gardens and forge bonds

KENNESAW, Ga. (MAY 21, 2013)— A pair of girls marked off a small curving path around their garden-in-the-making with a tape measure. Around them, a dozen other children put down layers of cardboard, compost and mulch, their gloved hands patting down the mix.

In a few months the elementary school students at the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics (MCAA) will plant corn, beans and squash with help from Kennesaw State’s Students for Environmental Sustainability (SES).

“They are doing everything,” said Jett Hattaway, president of SES, as he watched the activity. The rising senior recently received the Green Student Champion Award, which comes with a $1,000 grant, from the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS).

“We just show up to help, to show them why and what we’re doing,” said Hattaway, pausing to direct where the next barrel full of mulch should go.

But to get things done, it takes more than just showing up.

“Jett’s extremely passionate about sustainability and sustainable dining,” said Melissa McMahon, marketing manager of the University’s Culinary and Hospitality Services, who encouraged Hattaway to apply for the NACUFS award.

“He has the ability to lead and organize students. He can lead and delegate, which is difficult to do when you are working with your peers. He’s a natural leader.”

The SES students have been working with the Marietta elementary school for months. They installed a rain barrel collection system, a solar water pump and drip irrigation lines. SES also helped the elementary school students build a compost bin that will produce organic compost from cafeteria waste. A $2,000 Lowes Project Partnership Grant funded the project.

The raised garden beds are designed to mimic what happens on the forest floor when leaves, branches and other organic materials decay, breaking down to release essential nutrients for plants, explained Hattaway, who developed the partnership with the Marietta magnet school.

The small school, for grades 3 to 5, emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a one-to-one environment, said Jennifer Hernandez, the principal.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to learn about sustainability and how we can use our land resources to produce food,” she said.

“Our intent is to grow the crops and then either use them to feed the families at our school or to sell them at the KSU Farmers Market. So they will have the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship. It’s really multi-faceted.”

Working with the Kennesaw State students “has been absolutely fabulous,” Hernandez added. “They are obviously very knowledgeable, committed and organized.”

The elementary school project is the third one for SES since it was founded. The student group worked with McMahon to establish a garden on the Kennesaw State campus and to open the KSU Farmers Market. The market, which opened in September 2012, brings Georgia farmers to sell their produce at the Campus Green during the fall and spring semesters.

While Culinary and Hospitality Services oversees the campus garden and the farmers market, “SES provides the manpower, vision and the heart,” McMahon said.

Hattaway and the SES members saw a need they wanted to fill: access to healthy food students could prepare and cook on their own.

“I grew up in a household where we ate nothing but healthy foods. My dad is a chiropractor and my mom is a nutritionist,” said Hattaway, who grew up in Palmetto, Ga.

“Coming to college and having to struggle with finances, it was really difficult for me and my peers. Going to Whole Foods is not the most economically sound option for college students,” said Hattaway, 21, a business management major who wants to start a consulting firm for sustainability technology, such as solar panels and water collection systems.

The KSU Farmers Market has been successful — the vendors have sold more than $36,000 worth of produce over the course of two seasons — Hattaway said.

At the campus garden, SES planted a variety of produce with a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship to each other. The technique eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The first crop of corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, broccoli, beets and radishes will be harvested in a few weeks. Over the summer, SES will build a green house.

The student group hopes other schools, from K-12 to universities, can develop similar gardens and farmers markets and is developing a model to guide them through the process.

“They are so willing to share information with the elementary schools and other college campuses,” McMahon said. “They are very generous with the information and the help they offer.”

-Yolanda Rodriguez