Last summer, some students from Sherwood High School showed up at the Olney Farmers Market selling herbs and vegetables. I had been vaguely aware that Sherwood had greenhouses tucked behind the main building, but I had no idea of the extent of its commitment to growing things. I went over there to talk to Jill Coutts, director of the Certified Professional Horticulturist Program.
She was delighted to show me around. The school year was just about over, so the greenhouse and attached classroom looked a little bit desolate without students, but I could see the skeletons of bygone hydroponics and aeroponics projects. Outside, though, the evidence of improvements to the school were evident, and the 1/3 acre garden was still thriving.
The garden used to be an overgrown, abandoned tree farm. It’s now a place where students learn about tree care and experiment with growing vegetables.
In addition to the usual raised beds, Jill showed me a traditional African keyhole kitchen garden in process of construction. When it’s finished, the center shaft will be filled with compost, then soil will be mounded towards the center. It’s designed to be low-maintenance, and support up to 80 (!) tomato plants.
Outside the greenhouse, students have constructed a rain garden and planted a slope for erosion control. These plantings are designed to look their best in the fall.
The Horticulturist Program is composed of three elective courses and an internship. Upon graduation, students are well qualified to get jobs within the multimillion-dollar Montgomery County arboriculture business, or go on to college.
And their course of study is not just digging, planting and watering. Their first project is to design and construct a “living wall” of plants to clean the indoor air. The aeroponics projects result in crops of basil snapped up by Ricciuti’s Restaurant. Then there is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), which will grow 180 heads of lettuce in six weeks. Micro greens. Hydroponics. And plans for a future koi pond.
There are several outdoor courtyards within the school walls. Jill showed me a place in one of them which always flooded after a hard rain. After modifications designed and constructed by the students, that problem has been solved.
But my favorite bit of synergy is the kitchen garden planted in terraces, in the courtyard just outside the teaching kitchen for the Hospitality Management Program – to teach culinary and food service skills. A no-brainer!
Future plans for the Horticulturist Program include taking over the striped bass aquaculture system from the environmental science program. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for more of those Sherwood garden products at the farmers market!