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Horticulture class is expanding compost program

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Ryan Sklar is one of 13 Lake Oswego High School students in the sustainable horticulture class this summer.Since it sprouted last summer, the Lake Oswego High School sustainable horticulture class has flourished like wheat grass on fertile soil.

The program has thrived on account of community generosity, student enthusiasm and teacher Andrew Duden’s hard work and grant-writing skills. The class is intended to help teach students how to seed and cultivate a garden and to help them grow through a positive work experience. The class now has more students and an expanded composting program.

“The thing I think is kind of urgent is that students don’t have a real sense of where the food they eat comes from, and developing a deeper understanding of how food is produced and who produces it from an economic standpoint, from an environmental standpoint and from a civic standpoint is really important,” Duden said.

The summer class’s organization, including operating the compost program, is the province of LOHS students in political action seminar, an elective in which upperclassmen spearhead projects to develop leadership and citizenship skills.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - LOHS social studies teacher Andrew Duden founded a school garden.

The garden project is built on grants, and gifts continue to fuel and expand it. The Laker Club awarded $2,700 to install the W-shaped raised bed and fencing for the garden. It is one of the largest grants the club has given, Duden said.

The Clackamas County Office of Sustainability this fall provided $350 to expand the garden program’s composting system. Two rotating compost bins now accompany the original wooden compost box. To create compost, political action seminar students patrol the cafeteria, collecting leftovers from classmates.

“The stuff that we collected was really important for the soil and for our garden to prosper,” said Hannah Nicklos, an incoming LOHS senior and PAS student. “We seemed really excited about what we were doing, although I don’t think it was very exciting for the kids we were taking the lunch scraps from.”

Duden this summer has added a small greenhouse called a cloche to the garden, a structure wrought of a clear plastic sheet laid atop piping that warms the plants beneath it. He also would like to build a larger greenhouse to share with other classes in addition to the summer horticulture and political action seminar classes: the life skills, environmental science and engineering classes. A website for the garden could be coming this fall.

The horticulture class also is prospering in terms of attendance, rising from about 10 students last year to 13 this summer.

So far, the garden has yielded crops including snap peas, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, squash and garlic. Students have transformed their harvest into jars of salsa, tomato sauce and pickles.

Horticulture class student Ryan Sklar, who just finished his freshman year, has been cultivating his own produce since his grandmother gave him a planter in first grade. Sklar now manages his own garden, growing strawberries and pumpkins as well as crossbreeding squash to create a yellow, orange and red variegated vegetable.

Sklar said he respects how the horticulture class involves working the land in a natural way, using compost instead of fertilizer. He said more people should grow their own food because it tastes better: Strawberries are ruby-colored and solid through the middle, rather than like the bloated, bland red ones with hollow centers that are prevalent in grocery stores.

Sklar also likes the social aspect of tending a community garden.

“It’s an exciting activity to do with others,” Sklar said. “It’s a way to enjoy yourself, and a way to enjoy the world around you.”

The political action seminar involvement in the garden project has been a joy for Nicklos.

“I really enjoyed putting the effort and hard work into (the garden) and seeing what came out of it and learning the importance of a garden,” Nicklos said.

Students reaping the rewards of productive work is what Duden had in mind when he created the garden. He is a social studies teacher, not the science instructor who’d be more likely to launch a plant-related project, he said.

The idea sprang from a conference for kindergarten to 12th-grade-level educators that he earned a fellowship to at the Ahimsa Center in California State Polytechnic University. The focus was on Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, who led India to independence using passive resistance. Gandhi’s beliefs included: Building a civil society requires a constructive work program that benefits others. Duden wanted to apply that to curriculum for students.

“I thought gardening would be ideal for high school students,” Duden said.

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