Planting the seeds

Local students get hoop house experience, host seedling sale

Graveraet Elementary School fourth-grade student Emma Sherrill holds a seedling housed in a recycled milk carton. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Fourth-grade teachers at Graveraet Elementary School are planting the seeds for an interest in sustainable agriculture with their students through the use of a hoop house and an annual trip to Michigan State University Extension’s North and South farms in Chatham.

“Just maintaining our hoop house is a big part of our fourth grade,” said Maura Stone, a fourth-grade teacher at Graveraet. “I feel super lucky that we have it here; the hands-on learning you can do with planting and sustainable green living, it really opens their eyes to where food comes from.”

The students work in the hoop house throughout the school year and then host a sale to fundraise for the trip to the farm, where they pick up transplants that the group will water, weed and care for, Stone said.

“In the fall we learn to save seeds and then in the spring we use the seeds for our seedlings,” Stone said. “And then we package our seeds and sell them at the sale, which then, again gives us enough money to go back to the farm and get our transplants. So it’s a very cyclical process that we go through.”

On Thursday and Friday, students sold seedlings, homemade healthy and organic treats, handmade arts and crafts and more to raise funds to cover transportation costs for the trip to the farm, with all funds raised beyond that put back into hoop house improvements.

From left, Graveraet Elementary School fourth-grade students Isabella Cook, Emma Sherrill, Lotus Klipp and Jasper Augustyn hold seedlings they planted to sell at the fifth annual Happy Hoppin’ Seedlings Sale, which raises funds for the students to visit a farm in the spring. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

“We’re selling seeds and plant starters. We helped plant the plant starters and we harvested seeds right before the snow came,” said Isabella Cook, a fourth-grade student at Graveraet. “And most of the products that are sold here were made by the students; the parents helped with some because not all kids can work an oven.”

Students said they enjoyed the experience of planting the seedlings and packaging the plants, they said.

“I helped with the containers, it’s pretty fun,” said Lotus Klipp, a fourth-grader at Graveraet.

The containers for the seedlings used were recycled milk cartons, which the students recognized was a good way to reduce waste and prevent more resources from being used.

Beyond preparing items, the students also worked at the sale, getting opportunities to work a cash register, make smoothies and provide guidance to their customers.

Graveraet Elementary School fourth-grade students are pictured at the sale, which was held Thursday and Friday at the school. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Anderson)

The students “take ownership” of the hoop house operation and the sale, as they become heavily invested in the process, said fourth-grade teacher Meghan Anderson.

“Kids want to help and they don’t mind getting dirty,” Anderson said. “It’s their recess too and they don’t care, they would rather go help out in the hoop house and go water the plants.”

Working at the sale and in the hoop house also ties in with many of the things the students are learning, Stone and Anderson said. From economics and plant biology to sustainability and responsibility, the activities help the two teachers relate real-life experiences to the curriculum.

“We also are teaching in the middle of our economics unit so a lot of the sale has to do with enforcing the ideas that they’re learning in class,” Stone said.

Through partnerships with MSU Extension and Marquette Growth, the kids also get hands-on lessons about saving seeds in the fall, which prepares them for the work of collecting seeds and growing seedlings for the sale.

On each trip to the farm, the students get a first-hand look at the operations of a farm by visiting a number of stations, with topics in previous years ranging from composting to root cellars and soil blocking.

“We end the year with the farm and they can see that process there,” Anderson said.

Then, the students take the transplants from the farm and plant more fruits and vegetables for next year’s fourth-graders to harvest seeds from, completing the cycle.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.