Natasha Hegmann is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Ennis.

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Natasha explaining the garden layout

As an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team, I spend a lot of time cooking. I bake goodies for my weekly continuing education classes, I help sell produce at the Farmers’ Market by serving samples of veggie dishes and handing out recipes, and I even test my hand at cooking the venison, elk, and pheasant that community members share with me. In addition to all that cooking, I’m a self-proclaimed food blog addict – when I’m not cooking or working, I’m bookmarking recipes for future reference. I love the tantalizing photos, the unique ingredient lists and suggested modifications, but most of all I love the stories that come with recipes. From deep family tradition to a random purchase of an unfamiliar vegetable based on a grower’s recommendation, recipes carry and communicate who we are and what we’re about.

I’m also working on cooking up culture on a different scale: a culture of active kids, healthy families and vibrant communities. Take building a school garden:

Ingredients:

  • 30 volunteers
  • 13 yds soil
  • 11 yds cedar mulch
  • 300 ft lumber
  • Shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows, screws, weed barrier, garden gloves and other assorted tools
  • A warm spring day

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Sound pretty simple so far? The ingredients may seem straightforward, but getting them together is a bit trickier. It took hours of committee planning, meeting with community leaders, soliciting support from partner organizations, and grant writing to bring everything together for our first scheduled garden work day this past Saturday. Even then, we were short a warm spring day. Instead we had clouds, breeze and graupel
off and on throughout the day.

Luckily, the recipe is quite forgiving. Elementary school boys don’t care what kind of precipitation is coming down so long as they have toy dump trucks to haul soil around in. Committed parents and community members break sparingly for refreshments when the culmination of a garden project more than six months in the making is finally within reach. And I was too giddy from the unprecedented support and incredible progress for chilly fingers to deter my rock picking.

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The result of all this hard work is a beautiful school garden with ten raised beds and two perennial gardens that rose out of rocks, weeds and litter in just four hours. An amazing feat, but I think the success will just get sweeter as students plant seeds in their garden beds and as they watch the garden’s progress throughout the summer.

Every student and teacher will have the opportunity to add their own special touch to the Ennis Mustang School Garden recipe. Kindergartners will plant a rainbow of vegetables, fourth graders will sow and save seeds from heirloom rattlesnake snap beans, and a collection of native perennial plant species will gradually overtake parts of the garden. The school garden recipe may have a simple ingredient list, but its story is uniquely tied to the community where it resides. The most exciting part of the process is seeing what grows!

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Before
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After