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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Students explore agriculture

BY ELIZABETH KERSJES
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - On a small plot of land owned by Ohio State University, 13 high school students have dedicated their summer vacation to farming. The youths from nearby Metro Early College High School are growing organic vegetables for a student-run market they spent months organizing.

Never mind that most of the participants began with little, if any, knowledge of the agricultural world.

"They've never been to a farmers' market before; they've never worked on a farm before - and yet they've put together this business just through straight research and interviews and talking to people," said Neal Bluel, the marketing manager for the farm and a botany teacher at Metro.

Their efforts came to fruition on July 25, when the market opened for the first time.

"They've done a good job so far," Mr. Bluel said. "It's gone beyond our expectations already."

The project represents a collaboration between the so-called STEM school adjacent to Ohio State and the university.

Ohio State students enrolled in a horticulture class mapped out the crop placement on the farm; Metro students planned the market and found other vendors.

Support for the initiative - including marketing and grant writing - was supplied by the Past Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with the 11 STEM schools (science, technology, engineering, and math) throughout Ohio to develop hands-on programs.

Four Metro students serve as managers and eight Ohio State students earn credit hours for their work.

A rotating group of volunteers from Ohio State, Metro, and other high schools in the area pitches in to help maintain the farm.

For their volunteer time, the Metro students get service hours - a graduation requirement.

The experience has given farm manager Meagan Jones a new appreciation for the vocation.

"I didn't know what carrots looked like when they were in the ground," said Meagan, a 17-year-old senior. "I didn't know there were so many different varieties of lettuce.

"I didn't know anything about it, and I didn't give farmers enough credit."

With the market's debut, Meagan learned firsthand about some end-of-the-line challenges: Morning thunderstorms kept three of the nine vendors away.

Upper Arlington resident Barbara Shramo, 66, stopped with her husband, Richard.

"The produce is beautiful," she said. "And I think this is a great experience for the kids."

The couple left with peppers, basil, green beans, and summer squash.



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