RANCHESTER — The Ranchester Town Council decided to donate $750 to the Tongue River Elementary School garden and greenhouse project in exchange for students’ efforts in growing and transplanting flowers and plants for placement around the town.
At the last town council meeting, councilors requested a budget for the materials to review before accepting a contract for services. Longtime TRE staff member and master gardener Gwen Kepley provided a budget totaling $300 to cover the expenses that she estimates would be incurred through furnishing flowers and herbs for 16 wooden pots and to plant a brick planter with perennials.
Deputy Clerk Kathie Stevens came up with the idea to invest in the local hands-on learning and gardening project rather than purchase “ready to transplant” plants and flowers from various locations in Sheridan.
“As spring and summer approach, we began discussing the kind of flowers and decorative grasses that would need to be purchased and suddenly realized we have an amazing resource of teachers, students and gardening supplies right here within our local community,” Stevens said.
Kepley said TRE and Tongue River Middle School have had a school garden to go with their summer school programs for the last 12 years. It started in a teacher’s backyard, and then 10 years ago the town offered the program a plot of land behind the fire station, which provided plenty of water, and Clifford Reed’s bee population for pollination.
“We’ve had a lot of good food for summer school and the kids have enjoyed fresh vegetables and fruits all summer,” Kepley said. “A lot of the food went to our seniors in the local area, so it has been a really good thing.”
In 2016, TRE moved into its new building, complete with a garden that is about three times as big as the old one, and an 18-foot-by-10-foot greenhouse. Both are adjacent to the science room, which makes hands-on learning accessible.
“We live our garden; we don’t just study it and learn it in books and papers, we live it,” Kepley said quoting TRE Principal Deb Hofmeier.
The donation will provide money for the school garden, which is always in need of supplies. The council agreed providing a larger donation than requested would be a way to help the kids learn for an extended period of time.
“Here in SCSD1 we start the kids gardening in preschool and go all the way through with the big greenhouse at the high school,” Kepley said. “Our kids could just be all little master gardeners, by the time they get out of school, who know how to raise their own food.”
In other business, Sheridan County Conservation District district manager Carrie Rogaczewski requested an appropriation and provided an update from the conservation district, highlighting new projects including the installation of pet waste stations in the area, informational signs and efforts to gain ownership of the former Acme power plant in order to facilitate cleanup.