A community garden in Lakin aims to educate, promote health and bring fresh produce

woman gardening illustrationIllustration: Envato/PureSolution

 

These things kind of fell into one beautiful coincidence,” says Jenny White as she describes the formation of a community garden in Lakin. The director of the Kearny County Wellness Coalition, White had already helped create a community garden in neighboring Deerfield, so when additional funds became available in 2019, her group realized it could make a difference in Lakin, where the high school decided it would not resurface its tennis courts but would turn the property over for a community garden and greenhouse. “The Board of Education agreed to pay for the water,” White says. “It felt like a real destiny moment.”

This spring of 2022, the green house and 10 cinder-block garden plots are ready for their first growing season.  Lakin High School students will be gardening one of the garden plots, with 9 others left for community volunteers.  “My kids love doing things outdoors,” says Jennifer Wright, who teaches several agriculture classes at the high school, including a plant and soil class, horticulture, animal science and ag science. For her and her students, the gardens and greenhouse are part of a revival in agriculture-focused education. Lakin High School had ended its agricultural education program in 1980 but brought it back for the 2017–2018 school year. The following year, Lakin High School reinstated the Future Farmers of America program. With the greenhouse and garden now in place, Wright envisions her students being able to learn a multitude of skills, including composting, irrigation, pest control and fertilization methods. “My students can go out there and plant whatever they’re studying, or raise vegetables, or grow a crop like corn to learn about the stages of corn growth,” she says.

Wright notes that the program is important for students who intend to take ag classes at the college level and to establish connections with community members. “I see this garden as a gateway to help students,” Wright says.

 

Growing the Lakin Community Garden

Jenny White and Jennifer Wright have big hopes for the Lakin Community Garden. They hope that, in addition to providing hands-on agriculture education to high school students and growing opportunities for community members, the community garden will provide

  • Educational opportunities for middle- and elementary-school students
  • Fundraising for the schools by selling produce baskets
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables for the Kearny County Hospital
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables for the Lakin school cafeterias
  • Food for the Kearny County Farmers Market

 

Pathways to a Healthy Kansas Grants

Kearny County Wellness Coalition’s garden program has been funded in part by a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS), which launched its Pathways grant in 2016 with 8 communities and by 2020 had expanded to 24 communities. The original 8 communities had to meet several requirements, including being semi-urban to rural with populations of less than 75,000 people. Up to $500,000 in funding is available per community. For information about future grants, visit bcbsks.com.