Students at SunRidge Middle School will literally be able to enjoy the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor once their edible garden starts producing tomatoes, peppers, citrus and other tasty foods.
The school is benefiting from a partnership between Fresh Kitchen, a new restaurant in the Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves, and Fleet Farming, a nonprofit urban agriculture program through IDEAS For Us that encourages people to grow their own produce through micro farming and edible gardens.
Fresh Kitchen and Fleet Farming raised funds to build an edible garden at the Winter Garden school, and SunRidge teachers can use the gardens as part of their STEM teaching and learning curriculum.
Robin Nelms, NJHS sponsor and STEM teacher at the middle school, said Fresh Kitchen representatives reached out to her and said they were coming to Winter Garden and wanted to partner with the school.
“NJHS will be maintaining it for the most part,” Nelms said. “(For) part of their volunteer hours they can sign up for a week at a time. They show up and water and weed and can pick two days out of the week to monitor to see if there are fruits or weeds or it need watering. They are the eyes to maintain the area.
Nelms hopes to use the garden as part of her STEM lessons.
“We will have a more hands-on approach with life science and STEM with that garden, and it’s going to be a learning garden for everyone,” she said.
Savannah Hardman, SunRidge’s agriculture teacher, is already on board.
The Fleet Farming team planned and created the design for the garden space and then implemented the installation with the help of some volunteers from Fresh Kitchen’s management and staff.
Volunteers from both organizations were at the school July 22 to build the garden beds and frames and to plant vegetables, fruit trees and other plants.
The garden is located north of the school buildings in an area that served as an agricultural space with a garden and animals. It was closed during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic students at SunRidge Elementary, which is adjacent to the middle school, were maintaining a similar garden, and National Junior Honor Society students at SunRidge Middle were assisting in the garden.
“There are animal pens out there, and I think the hope for the school is to bring that back, not this year, but eventually,” Nelms said. “I am very excited to be able to get (students) out of the classroom … and we will plant things as we go along. … We like to help the community with NJHS, so … (we hope) to use the fresh fruits and veggies to help the community.”
The new garden has three fruit trees (cherry, mulberry, plum and peach); a pollinator flower garden; tomatoes, peppers, okra, spinach varieties, eggplant, Seminole pumpkin and watermelon; and basil, rosemary, mints and aloe vera.
The third party in the partnership is IDEAS For Us.
“The Fresh Kitchen team reached out to us about partnering with our non-profit organization in order to create a school garden at a nearby school,” said Alex Luna, director of eco-services with IDEAS For Us. “Schools like SunRidge Middle want to provide these garden spaces for their students to learn about the natural sciences, agriculture, horticulture; to be able to get out of the classroom and see how our fruits and vegetables grow; and to be able to see, touch and feel what they learn in the classroom. “Creating these kind of outdoor learning spaces is our specialty, and we love partnering up with … Fresh Kitchen to create these magical spaces for students,” he said.
As IDEAS director, Luna oversees teams targeted at serving the Greater Orlando community in capacities such as restoring ecosystems, creating gardens with native plant and edible landscaping, and engaging in other sustainability efforts. IDEAS For Us does this work in schools, at community centers and on public lands and works with homeowners and municipal leaders “to create what we like to call ‘utter gorgeousness,’” Luna said.
The Fleet Farming program, based in Audubon Park, exists as part of IDEAS for Us, a grassroots nonprofit organization that creates global environmental solutions through local action related to energy, water, food, waste and ecology.
The IDEAS team, along with a group of volunteers, is committed to going out into the community to tackle myriad projects. Last month, the group planted 75 trees at the Johns Lake conservation area reserve.
“We have multiple events per week in the same manner satisfying local needs in our community,” Luna said. “People can come volunteer at any of our events. … This month we had 17 projects in Orlando, including 11 volunteer events, just this past week, completing a pollinator garden and bee hotel installation on Monday, a lake shoreline restoration at Lake Cane on Thursday, Pine Hills Elementary School fruit tree garden planting on Friday, another shoreline restoration at UCF on Friday, and a garden revamp at OCPS Academic Center for Excellence aka ACE School in Parramore.”
IDEAS For Us was founded at the University of Central Florida in 2008. After taking a class by environmental sociologist Penelope Canan, students decided to commit to making UCF a greener and more sustainable campus. Soon, IDEAS For Us would evolve into a branch-based college club focused on action projects.
In 2011, the program evolved into a nonprofit environmental organization.