By Doug Graves
CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – At Cuyahoga Falls High School, Steve McIntosh is an intervention specialist and Steve Newlan is a government and social studies teacher. But each day at 2 p.m., they become agriculture science teachers.
McIntosh and Newlan are the teachers of a pilot class that is a social studies elective at their school – Intro to Urban Agriculture. As of now, 40 students are taking the class.
“The Intro to Urban Agriculture program at our school is a way to provide a hands-on learning experience for students while helping the community,” McIntosh said. “This year we’ve already donated over 2,000 pounds of food to local food pantries in the area.”
At the heart of this learning process is a large garden at the school. The goal of the garden is to grow food for those in need and to provide a learning experience for the students taking the course. The Cuyahoga Falls Fresh Farm started with a small grant from a local alumni association and a GAR Educator Initiative Grant. Several subject areas, including biology, language arts, art and consumer sciences, utilize the garden for learning opportunities for things like soil testing, drawing and writing.
“We started this garden in the first place because we saw a need,” McIntosh said. “There’s plenty of people out there who don’t have access to healthy, fresh produce. And we wanted to provide an opportunity for students of all walks of life to come together, regardless of background, regardless of academic ability, to work on a single project.”
While some students head to athletic events, band practice or simply head home, 40 students can be spotted grabbing rakes, hoes, shovels, weeders and more.
“They’re out there every day, harvesting, planting, watering, weeding and weighing – doing everything that you need to do to make sure that you’re successful in your garden,” McIntosh said. “The learning happens while we’re doing, so while we’re picking vegetables with the students, we’re explaining why these vegetables are growing this way, what planting them is doing to the soil, how we can make the soil healthier for next year and more.”
Lucas Moughler, a senior at the school, calls the hands-on class one of her favorites. “It’s very much one of my favorite classes,” she said. “I really like gardening. It’s like a comforting feeling. For some reason, when I think of gardening I think of family, like bringing everybody together and putting effort in something to grow something beautiful.”
The garden is an extension of the classroom, one McIntosh thinks every school should have.
“Just like every school has a gym or a cafeteria, I think they should have a learning garden,” McIntosh said. “This teaches life skills, it teaches patience. It teaches hard work, problem solving and collaboration. It allows them to take what they’re learning in their other classes and apply it to a real-world problem.”
The students benefit from work in the garden. So, too, does the community. Much of the food is donated to nonprofits in the area such as Cuyahoga Falls Good Neighbors and the Akron Food Bank.
“We’ve donated more than 2,000 pounds of food just this year alone, and more than 6,000 since we started, so it just keeps getting bigger and better every year,” McIntosh said. “Exclusively last year, we donated over 2,800 pounds of food during the pandemic. We had students coming in after school, evenings and weekends, making sure that we are harvesting food and getting it to the people that needed it here in our community.”
School officials are happy to see the students come together to see the fruits of their labor put to good use.
“Everybody needs to eat and take care of themselves,” Moughler said. “We’re not only donating food to people but it’s beneficial because we’re learning stuff about gardening.”