Columbia Star

Pine Ridge Middle’s new garden is about more than growing plants

USC senior Louis Rubino talks with a Pine Ridge student while he waters garden plants.

USC senior Louis Rubino talks with a Pine Ridge student while he waters garden plants.

At Pine Ridge Middle School, there’s a new reason to look forward to Fridays.

That’s the day volunteers with the University of South Carolina’s Sierra Club organization come to the Lexington Two school to help tend a new garden. Together with Pine Ridge students, they stir compost bins maintained by each grade level, talk about plants, work on the greenhouse, and weed and water beds brimming with crops like lettuce, potatoes, garlic, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash.

The project is the culmination of many partnership hands that helped launch the garden in January with construction of several raised beds. In addition to USC’s Sierra Club, other garden partners include Dominion Energy, which provided an Environmental Sustainability Grant, and Communities In Schools of the Midlands, which coordinates students for garden work, recruits community volunteers, and secured grant money. Sal’s Ol’ Timey Feed & Seed and a USC professor were among donors of flower and vegetable seedlings.

USC senior Louis Rubino stirs contents of a compost bin.

USC senior Louis Rubino stirs contents of a compost bin.

“The goal is to teach students the importance of sustainable growing practices, local plants, and their impact on the environment,” said Susan Key, Communities in Schools site coordinator at Pine Ridge Middle. The garden also provides food for students to take home over the weekend.

“It’s great to see the excitement on the faces of students when they see the volunteers coming to school, and they see the results of their labor and time when they are harvesting their vegetables,” said Key, adding the plan now is to continue the garden next school year with a goal of adding Saturday garden/harvest days for students and families when it’s safe to do so. “One of the biggest rewards is to hear the conversations between the students, CIS staff, and volunteers about their own home experiences of gardening.”

Key said having college students at the school is about more than just gardening.

“The impact these college volunteers have on students beginning to think about college themselves is priceless,” Key said. “The students have direct conversations with these young adults in college, and it can motivate our students to see themselves in those same shoes.”

Produce from the Pine Ridge Middle School garden

Produce from the Pine Ridge Middle School garden

Volunteer Louis Rubino, a senior at USC, said working with Pine Ridge students each week has been rewarding.

“We really wanted to do something with gardening. We wanted to be able to bring it to the kids,” Rubino said. “ There is some food insecurity in our area, and we wanted to be able to teach kids how to grow food and send them home with food.”

“Honestly, this is one of the most fulfilling things I can do with my free time,” Rubino added.

Given COVID’s impact on the year, Pine Ridge Principal Dr. David Basile said he is grateful for everyone who has made the project possible.

“In a year like we have had this year, it is a gift to have our students work together in this wonderful learning opportunity,” Basile said. “It is a great way to end a tough school year.”

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