Growing together: A garden project in Walnut Hills aims for food -- and community -- sustainability

Produce also has dual aim for senior citizens

CINCINNATI -- A new urban agriculture garden project in Walnut Hills promises to yield produce, learning opportunities and community-building.

Representatives for Millennium Group II, a sustainability consulting company, are partnering with Life Skills High School staff and students to bring the permaculture project to the corner of Taft Road and Kemper Lane. The garden is slated to begin operating June 7.

The garden aims to bring together high school students and senior citizens to teach students about agriculture and provide produce for community members.

"It's going to be a transferring of information and knowledge as well as a gathering space for senior citizens," said Linda Matthews, CEO of Millennium Group II.

The project is one of many efforts to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to a community that in March saw the closure of a long-operating Kroger grocery store.

Life Skills High School students will soon maintain a permaculture garden in Walnut Hills.

A new Kroger location at that time opened in Corryville, 1.3 miles from the former Walnut Hills store. However, with a high concentration of senior citizens and individuals who don't own cars, it can be difficult for community members to travel to the new store and back with groceries.

Life Skills leaders already were hoping to start a garden in a space adjacent to the school, but Matthews' guidance helped tie in the community aspect and bring the vision to fruition on a larger scale.

"We were initially just trying to make it a very small in-house project," said Life Skills Principal Zena Vaughn.

RELATED: Walnut Hills farmstand helps fill gap left by Kroger closure

Life Skills is an alternative education option for students between 16 and 21, who in many cases have dropped out or fallen behind in traditional high schools.

Students at the school's Cincinnati location will incorporate principles learned in 21st-century agriculture classes into hands-on planting and harvesting work.

"They'll learn it in the classroom, and then they'll be able to apply what they learned out in the garden," Vaughn said.

Senior citizens from the community will offer physical and verbal guidance with the gardening.

"For me, with the high school students, it's about building value and a connectedness, not just with their community but with the culture," Vaughn said.

Harvest time will offer its own set of lessons.

"When we harvest, then we'll go into canning and things like that," Matthews said.

Students will get further opportunities to interact with community members while learning entrepreneurial skills selling the garden's produce. They'll get to take some of the fresh fruits and vegetables home as well.

The program's many phases and layers will delve into a variety of lessons beyond simply planting, harvesting and selling produce.

The agriculture lessons will teach students about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. The interactions with Walnut Hills residents will help students develop communication skills and even a sense of belonging and worth, Vaughn said.

Her hope is that the sustainability that emerges will be reflected not only in terms of feeding the community but in preparing students for higher education and career opportunities.

"A program like this and them learning this particular skill set will be their ticket to the middle class," she said.

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