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Mike Riehls
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The 2013 garden produced vegetables, herbs and flowers in abundance. Photos courtesy Lindsey Kurtz

February 13, 2014
Grosse Pointers are shoveling yet more snow, but they are really daydreaming of the sun shining on their backs as they dig in the dirt.

Grosse Pointe Public School System's special needs students, too, are anxious for the season to change so they can begin putting down roots. In an eight-week summer program, the students will plant flower, herb and vegetable seeds in preparation for planting seedlings in the Full Circle Foundation urban garden.

Created two years ago, the garden serves as an outdoor classroom for these students and affords them multiple experiences, including learning new skills, enhancing their senses, learning the plants' life cycles and trying new vegetables.

"It's an extended classroom," said Lindsey Kurtz, Full Circle Foundation's executive director. "A classroom without walls. It's a great opportunity to be outdoors. They are learning from being outdoors, enjoying the beauty of nature. They are accessible to the smells and textures (of plants). They are enjoying the earth."

The first step in the program is to plant seeds donated by local nurseries in the early spring, maintaining the seedlings until it's time to transplant them to the 120-by-40-foot garden on Warren in Detroit in May.

As a bonus, when trying new foods, the students learn about eating nutritious foods.

"A lot haven't tried kale or kohlrabi. They learn a lot about having a sense of purpose from start to finish and taste the fruit," Kurtz said.

"I find it fascinating watching everything grow from seeds," said Charles Mengden, who has been helping maintain a football field-sized garden on the grounds of the Riverview North Health & Rehab Center for two years.

In addition to planting and maintaining the garden, students decorate brown paper grocery bags and fill them with the produce they harvest.

Once a week from July through September, the Full Circle van is loaded with bags of produce and bouquets of flowers and herbs to be delivered to subscribers. Additionally, Full Circle partnered with an Eastern Market farmer who adds produce not grown in Full Circle's garden.

Last year for $350 16 subscriber families ate, among other produce, collard greens, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers seasoned with lavender, parsley, chives, cilantro, oregano or dill.

"This is getting the community involved in the garden and supporting locally grown produce. We turned it into a small business. We can have it (the garden) become self-sustaining," Kurtz said.

New this year

"There are so many different vegetables. They (subscribers) were asking (one another), 'What do you do with eggplant or collard greens?' They would exchange recipes," she said.

This spurred Kurtz to compile a recipe booklet to be printed early this spring. Anyone can submit a recipe to Full Circle's website by the end of February. At least one recipe ingredient must be something raised in the urban garden.

Another new idea is the first stone soup and art show fundraiser from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at the Tompkins Center. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at the door or at stonesoupartfestival.eventbrite.com.

Local professional artists create works either in collaboration with a special needs student or one inspired by a special needs student. The work is donated for the silent auction held that night.

Local high-end restaurants provide soup to be served in student-decorated bowls.

Sustainability

As seeds grow into mature plants, so goes the program.

Under the guidance of newly-hired garden coordinator Evan Rocheford, who holds degrees in permaculture and urban sustainability from Indiana University, the program is adding raised garden beds. The hope is to have between 10 to 15 raised garden beds built this season thus making gardening more accessible to Riverview's residents and those who are restricted in movement.

"Residents who are able to help do. They do as much as they can," said Christine Petrik, Riverview's director.

Otherwise, the residents enjoy watching the students work in the garden.

"It (the raised beds) will be handicap accessible and also great for our participants. It will be a beautiful space to visit," she said.

A $250 donation supplies the beds' building materials. Volunteers and Eagle Scout candidates are to assemble the beds in the spring. Each bed will have a plaque indicating the donor. To donate, visit the Full Circle's website — fullcirclefdn.org.

Between the raised beds and the urban garden, Rocheford sees an opportunity for sustainability.

"I think the garden has a tremendous amount of potential," he said in an e-mail. "It presents an opportunity to create a space that is not only uplifting and educational, but also extremely productive and ecological."

When Rocheford moves to Grosse Pointe in April, his plans are "to efficiently use the garden space that already exists, develop a master plan for the garden's expansion and begin its implementation, and last but not least, to further develop the community of participants involved in the garden."

Those interested in volunteering at the garden, donating resources or becoming a supporter, contact Rocheford at ero

cheford@fullcirclefdn.org or fullcirclefdn.org.

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