A half-acre of ground behind Fenner Fields was tilled Wednesday morning to make way for the new community garden to be created and tended by student in the Cazenovia High School agriculture classes and FFA chapter. (photo by Jason Emerson)
Ground was broken Wednesday for a new Cazenovia Community Garden — a garden that will be run by Cazenovia High School students but one that will benefit the entire community.
The garden, located behind the softball field at the Sean M. Googin Athletic Complex on Fenner Road, is a project created by students in the Cazenovia High School Agriculture Program and funded through state grants.
Plans are to plant crops before school begins in September and have the first harvest in late fall.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Mandi Millen, CHS agriculture program advisor. “You’ve got to make sure you have students behind this, which we do. And when we had the opportunity for a competitive grant, we jumped at it.”
Millen’s class and FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter members have been working to create the community garden since 2017. In January 2018, they gave a presentation on the idea to the Cazenovia Board of Education seeking the board’s support and approval to plant on district land.
“Our class decided to create the community garden because we want to help the community by learning how to produce fresh fruits and vegetables that can be donated, and to expand our hands-on agricultural experiences,” said Trevor O’Herien Ag Club president and club member Samantha Morris at that time.
The garden will be used as a hands-on tool for agriculture students in the high school and will grow fruits and vegetables and maybe even a fiber crop from alpacas.
The garden will be tended by students in the high school agriculture and FFA programs, Millen said. But they are not doing this alone — they will also be helped by Troop 18 Boy Scouts, students from Burton Street Elementary School, as well as community individuals and businesses.
“We really want this to be a community garden, not just an ‘us’ garden,” Millen said.
Harvests from the garden will be given to Caz Cares food pantry and Burton Street Elementary School, she said.
At the groundbreaking event on August 8, district officials, students and representatives from Cazenovia Equipment — the local business who provided the tractors to till the land — were on hand to watch the garden begin.
“This is exciting; I look forward to things going in the ground,” said Superintendent Matt Reilly as the two John Deere tractors began tilling the half-acre of land. “I just love seeing a community and business partnership furthered by a project like this program; it’s great for our kids. I invite people to monitor its progress and hopefully we will all share in its bounty both literally and educationally.”
On hand for the groundbreaking were Cazenovia High School students FFA President Erin Curtis-Szalach and FFA Vice President Eli Hunt.
“I’m really excited to do a program that the whole community can take part in for FFA and to be a part of something we created,” said Curtis-Szalach.
“I’m really excited we get to expand,” Hunt said. “We’ve been constricted with the number of students we have and the amount of space we can do things [inside the school] … it’s exciting to do something, to have our mind set on a goal and accomplish it.”
“This is the continuation of the grant we got last spring for $3,000 through the New York State School-Based Agricultural Education Incentive Program,” said Millen. “This is the next stepping is getting this ground turned and set up.”
The fence that will surround and protect the garden from invasive animals will be built by Boy Scout Troop 18 member Max Fischer as his Eagle Scout project, said Troop 18 Scout Leader George Schmit.
The fence will be made of four-foot mesh wire, some buried into the ground to prevent animals from tunneling under, and topped at the six-foot mark by two strands of barbed wire to prevent deer from jumping over. The fence will be supported by wooden posts, and will have gates at both ends.
Construction on the fence will hopefully start next week, said Schmit, who was at the groundbreaking to represent Fischer, who was out of town.
Once the fence is up, students will pick up rocks within the half-acre garden area, put fabric over the top and then start planting, hopefully all before school starts in September.
The high school ag program has already grown multiple cold season crops in the school that they will transplant to the garden, Hunt said. Some of the crops they have ready include cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and numerous varieties of lettuce, he said.
The harvest on these plants should be in late fall before the frost comes, he said.
Once the garden is on course this fall, the yearly process will be to plant in the spring and harvest in the fall, Millen said.
The class currently has $3,000 in funding to spend on the project — grant money they received through the New York State School-Based Agricultural Education Incentive Program. The agriculture class students applied for the grant themselves last year — a grant for $9,000, of which they were awarded $3,000. They plan to apply for more grants to increase the project’s funding.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.
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