Students test green thumbsPublished 8:46am Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Emily Hanger picked a bug off of a potato plant and placed it into a plastic bag held by Niles fifth-grader Marika Ruppart.
Hanger then looked at her blue glove and noticed a brown spot that was apparently left behind by the insect.
“That’s kind of gross,” said the Niles 9-year-old.
Hanger and Ruppart were two of more than a dozen Niles area fourth and fifth grade students getting a hands-on gardening experience last week at the Niles Community Gardens’ Ballard Elementary garden as part of the city’s Summer My Way summer camp program.
In addition to learning how to weed and de-bug plants, students learned about the purpose of a community garden and the positive impact it can have on the community. Students also tasted a variety of fruits and vegetables, while taking care of their own 4-foot by 4-foot planters at the back of Ballard Elementary School.
The gardening portion of the camp lasts two weeks. New students rotate in every two weeks.
“Although we have a few students who have a garden at home, the majority of them have had little to no experience gardening — so this is a good experience for them,” said gardening class instructor Janie Townsend. “I think we may have some future gardeners in our midst.”
Denise Peters, a Niles-Buchanan YMCA employee who helps run Summer My Way, said the summer camp would not be possible without the help of several individuals, businesses and others who donate time, money and resources to the new program.
“Every day I am overwhelmed with the collaboration in the community to serve the kids of the community,” she said. “Everyone has brought what they are able to make the camp successful and we have tried to use what they have to bring. This is how it has really come together.”
For instance, Niles Community Gardeners Ildi Penninger and Arlene Richardson donated their time to teach students about gardening last week at the Niles Community Gardens site near Ballard Elementary School.
“We are happy to do it,” Penninger said. “Hopefully it will help them get interested in gardening if they weren’t already.”
Peters said several others pitched in to help with the gardening portion of the summer camp, including:
• Kachur Tree Service, which donated black dirt for garden beds at Ballard Elementary
• East Main Gardens Florist, which donated different types of soil for planting
• Niles-Buchanan YMCA, which built garden beds at Ballard
• Niles Community Gardens, which allowed the students to be part of the community gardens
• Home Depot, which donated seeds for the students
• Wal-Mart, which donated funds for classroom supplies and instruction
• Lowe’s, which donated classroom supplies
• Target, which donated funds to promote eating healthy fruits and vegetables as students were able to sample a variety of produce
• Van Buren ISD, which contributed nutrition educators to provide instruction in the classroom
Peters said these are just a few examples of the many who have contributed to the camp’s success.
Summer My Way is a collaboration between the Berrien County 4-H, City of Niles, Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce, Lake Michigan College, Southwestern Michigan College, Lakeland Health Care, Niles-Buchanan YMCA, Niles Community Schools, Niles District Library and the United Way of Southwest Michigan.