An Omaha Nation school garden is teaching students valuable employment skills and life lessons

The task is huge: the garden produces 300 cucumbers a day, as well as 500 pumpkins, 1,500 tomato plants and 1,500 peppers a year. In all, students grow and harvest more than 25,000 plants each growing season.

And the work doesn’t stop when the harvest is over. Students and staff must sell or donate fresh produce to the community and process the produce for later consumption. They freeze dry and dehydrate fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, apples and strawberries and process 100 jars of pickles.

Ariza said the school has big plans for the future, including building a processing center complete with freeze dryers, dehydrators, freezers, stoves, canning equipment and coolers. School officials visited the processing centers to learn more about what it takes to build such a facility.

“Funding is a big part of it,” he said.

The school also hopes to eventually be able to raise small livestock such as chickens, goats and sheep.

The school hosts three farmers’ markets a week under a canopy outside the school. Students and staff also provide a meal — bean and corn soup, vegetable soup and bread — during the Omaha Tribe’s annual summer powwow.

Jars of sliced ​​and pickled cucumbers harvested from a student garden at the Umohoⁿ Nation Public School in Macy, Nebraska, are seen here. (Kevin Abourezk/ICT)

The school supplies produce to the local senior center and the jail, and shares produce with the school cafeteria and a student-run cafe at the school called Bluestem Cafe. The school also provides cornhusks to the Native American Church for use in ceremonies.

The lessons are numerous, Ariza said.

“Many of these students have never had a job,” he said.

Students are paid $10.50 an hour for yard work. Ariza said the students typically reinvest those funds back into the community.

In addition, to cash their checks, students are taught how to open a checking account, which requires them to gather tribal or state ID cards, birth certificates, and social security cards.

Ariza said gardening is a powerful form of experiential learning.

“Get them out of that classroom. Get them out of those chairs,” he said. “It’s the way of the future and we’re doing it that way.”

Richard Valentino, a cultural educator for the school, said gardening and sharing produce with the community has taught many students how to communicate with others. He said that some of the students struggled to talk with adults or their peers before working in the garden.

“Now every morning, you see them having fun, coming out of their shell, feeling comfortable around a lot of our people,” he said.

Many students interviewed by ICT said that they are initially involved in gardening work to earn money, but have come to enjoy the work and have learned many lessons.

Destin Parker, 14, said it was exciting to earn his first paycheck, which he used to travel to Oklahoma for a basketball tournament.

Kaijahlynn Miller, 14, said the most difficult parts were the heat and carrying five-gallon buckets of water.

“It’s really good,” he said. “It was exhausting.”

Eventually, he grew to love plants.

“It’s nice to see them grow,” he said. “I felt like they were like children. Then they became bigger.”

This article first appeared in the Voice of Oklahomaa sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network. The article was originally published by ICT. It has been republished with permission.

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