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A garden classroom in Ferguson-Florissant will be part of a national bee research project

Valerie Logan gardens alongside Teontae Simms, 12, as part of the Permaculture Project of Metropolitan St. Louis and partnering with the south St. Louis-based Custom Foodscaping LLC and the the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on Friday, April 21, 2023, at The Mark Twain Restoration & Wellness Center in Florrisant. “This program is designed so we can be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Logan said. “This is a way to disconnect and ‘fast’ from social media.”
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Valaree Logan gardens alongside Teontae Simms, 12, as part of the Permaculture Project of Metropolitan St. Louis and partnering with the south St. Louis-based Custom Foodscaping and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on Friday at the Mark Twain Restoration & Wellness Center in Florissant. “This program is designed so we can be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Logan said. “This is a way to disconnect and ‘fast’ from social media.”

On a perfect spring day last week, Ferguson-Florissant sixth grader Arionna Mcallister was digging in a garden bed outside her class. She was preparing a hole for a small mint plant.

“I’m taking my time, and it feels good out here,” she said.

Arionna and her classmates at the Mark Twain Restoration and Wellness Center were moving aside compost to dig holes for plant starters. They are creating a regenerative community garden — plants like lamb’s ears were chosen to create a tactile experience for students, while chamomile, lemon balm and mint can be used for tea.

The garden is a collaboration among the Ferguson-Florissant School District, Project Lab St. Louis, Custom Foodscaping, Seed St. Louis and even the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The students will be partnering with a garden in Anacostia in Washington, D.C., to compare research on bees.

The project has been months in the making. Last semester, students cleared invasive grass and helped Custom Foodscaping prepare the raised beds.

Students work on the Permaculture Project of Metropolitan St. Louis on Friday, April 21, 2023, at The Mark Twain Restoration & Wellness Center in Florissant.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Students work on the Permaculture Project of Metropolitan St. Louis last Friday at The Mark Twain Restoration & Wellness Center in Florissant.

The Restoration and Wellness Center is an alternative program for students who need extra social and emotional support. Twice a week this school year, the students have class with Valaree Logan, the lead gardener and school liaison for Project Lab. There are a lot of lessons Logan wants students to take away from this time.

“I'm hoping that as we all are doing more than just planting, doing more than just watering and weeding, that we're connecting with each other and practicing these skills as we take care of plants, and as we communicate with each other and problem solve together,” Logan said.

The students started with the basics of planting but also dug deep into lessons about decomposition, featuring a class worm bin. Logan said middle schoolers are a great age to start with because they’re open-minded and aren’t as worried about getting dirty as older kids might be. The classes have also included some taste tests.

“Last time we made a fruit bowl, you know, that was fire,” Mcallister remembered. “That was the bomb-dot-com.”

Logan also co-founded Odds and Ends farm with her partner. It started as a way to provide healthy food for their daughter but has grown to respond to food access issues in north county. Logan hopes this project will inspire conversations about food access for students, too.

“We live in north county, where people would consider it a food desert, right, so what does that mean?” Logan asked. “And how does that correlate with the things that we're growing here and what we can do as gardeners, as researchers and scientists to help combat an issue that's right here where we live.”

Logan hopes as students tell their friends and family about this project, the word will spread and similar projects will branch out at other schools.

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.