LYNDON CENTER -- For the fifth summer, the gardens at Lyndon Institute are in full bloom thanks to a summer gardening program started by teacher and master gardener Jerry Leonard.
A small group of LI students under Leonard's supervision have been hard at work since June 17 tilling the soil of the 4,000 square foot working farm and tending to plants in 36 raised beds. The land was once a vacant lot.
Leonard cultivated the site and layered it with stone and heavy loads of nourished top soil. The school's food scraps, composted through the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District, lead to a full cycle of food recycling, Leonard said.
The program runs until Aug. 14, and students are taking some vegetables to the kitchen at LI and the rest to their homes. Crops include basil lettuce, beans, Swiss chard and more.
There are others, less welcome, who also feast on the gardens, Leonard said. They include deer, woodchucks and other wildlife.
"We don't just garden," said Leonard, pointing to some carpentry skills the students are learning as they build out-buildings to service the growing program. Students earn credit for the summer program which has an enrollment of six kids. Students also come from the Caledonia School and include both at-risk and special needs pupils.
In a summer growing season marked by near-incessant rain and strange temperature swings, the gardens at LI are abundant and gorgeous. Inside the solar-heated greenhouses, peppers, tomatoes and onions all flourish. There is eight feet of gravel under the gardens, said Leonard, and a foot to 18 inches of top soil, then the compost feeding the soil, the weeding maintained, and bad weather or not, the gardens here would be the envy of the neighborhood if they weren't tucked away so privately.
Rose Holloway, 16, who will soon start her junior year at LI, said she learned how to plant tomotaes and loves "Watching them turn red and grow."
The students also have learned how to prepare the vegetables, with Leonard showing them how to grill and enjoy the bounty from their work.
Tyler Mitchell, 15, said he's learned how to use tools, including rototilling the garden early on in the season, something he had not done before.
Skye Boutah, 17, said, "Mr. Leonard is the best teacher ever. I like pulling weeds and I like planting."
"The whole program is working on life skills," said Leonard of the goals of the gardening program. Students have learned how to thin plants, how to transplant, and more.