SHERIDAN — After establishing itself as a nonprofit in December, Rooted in Wyoming has grown from one school garden to multiple gardens in the works while offering other assistance to schools in the area.
Rooted executive director Bonnie Gregory said the nonprofit’s pilot garden at the Big Horn schools has been a slow process but is coming together. She said they’ve completed the fencing and topsoil for the garden, which was designed and named The Ram Harvest Garden by parents and students.
Gregory said students are working together to complete the garden and have added their own ideas to the planting. She said students decided to plant pumpkins in the spring so kindergärtners could enjoy them in the fall.
Rooted has also started building a garden at Holy Name Catholic School. The group hosted a build day Saturday, and Gregory said the garden is about three-quarters of the way done.
“It was this collaborative effort of them screwing and measuring and all of them were involved and excited,” Gregory said about students participating at the build day.
Woodland Park Elementary School students have received a chance to garden off campus. Rooted has partnered with the University of Wyoming’s Sheridan Research and Extension to allow students to use a piece of property the extension leases from Whitney Benefits.
Woodland Park teacher Donna Johannesmeyer said the students have been to the facility about three times, planting tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuce and more from heirloom seeds. Last month, the students transferred plants to larger planters.
Johannesmeyer said this is all part of a curriculum developed by Texas A&M University called Learn, Grow, Eat & Go! She said students learn how to grow plants and eat healthy. She said there’s also an active component to the curriculum.
Johannesmeyer said the students have been enjoying the planting and she has been told by many that it’s the best part of their day.
Gregory said Rooted has also been working to bring a garden to Normative Services, Inc. and they’re in the final stages of securing a greenhouse donation for the garden. She also said the Wyoming Girls School, which already has a garden and greenhouse, has asked Rooted to help with curriculum as an effort to bring the garden into the classroom.
While Gregory said the main effort of Rooted is to teach younger generations where food comes from, the program also fits into a bigger educational and economic picture.
Gregory said gardening helps students with critical thinking skills. She said it involves math, science, history, economics, nutrition and more. While participating, students have to solve problems like irrigation and other issues.
Additionally, Gregory said agriculture is one of Wyoming’s three main economic sectors, the other two being tourism and energy, and it’s possible that an early introduction to agriculture could result in future ranchers or farmers. This is important, she said, as existing agriculture producers are aging out of the industry.
“We’re really short on producers,” Gregory said. “We need them.”