Emily Cripps, who teaches English language learners at Lexington’s Lansdowne Elementary School, noticed on home visits that Nepalese refugee families were growing herbs in five gallon buckets on their apartments’ tiny balconies.
The herb, Cripps learned, is called Holi basil or tulsi. Some Nepalese families use it for medicinal purposes and to cook with. Cripps also found out that other refugee and immigrant families whose children attend Lansdowne wanted herbs and fresh vegetables native to their home countries but didn’t have a place to grow them. Lansdowne has the highest number of refugees of any Fayette County elementary school, Cripps said.. Eleven percent of the students at Lansdowne have refugee status; 25 percent of students have English as a second language.
That’s just one of the reasons that Cripps, who has a horticulture degree and worked in greenhouse production at a Tennessee wholesale nursery before she was a teacher, wanted a microfarm for Lansdowne Elementary. A microfarm is small-scale farming operation that takes place in urban or suburban areas, usually on less than 5 acres of land. Cripps obtained a $2,000 grant from Whole Foods Market Foundation. She enlisted the help of Wilson Nurseries, which has locations in Frankfort and Lexington, to develop a plan.
An event at the school to launch the project was held Saturday. Work on the microfarm will start in the spring.
“I didn’t want this project just to be a garden,” Cripps said. “We want to really expand kids’ understanding of careers and agriculture.”
There are many pieces to the project, which has a goal of bringing more families, many of whom live close to the school, into contact with Lansdowne Elementary.
In addition to providing food and medicinal herbs, it will also be used for science and career lessons and for other courses. Some of the students’ parents work in agriculture, and Cripps also will introduce students to careers like her husband’s, who is a soil scientist. Lansdowne students, in anticipation of the microfarm, have started a Farm to Table Club, where they learn about gardening, agriculture, fresh foods and the environment.
Installation of the microfarm, which will include everything from horseradish to sweet potatoes and from marigolds to tomatoes, will begin in early spring 2017. Wilson Nurseries is donating help with that too.
The microfarm has “an aesthetic that is quite beautiful,” Cripps said. “We want this to be a place of healing and where people would want to come and spend time.”
Cripps said in envisioning the microfarm she collected a list of plants from refugee and immigrant families.
For example, Arabic-speaking families and refugees from Syria, Jordan and Iraq use mint, Cripps said, which can be expensive to buy at the grocery store. Mint will be grown in the microfarm.
Jason Nesler, the general manager of Wilson’s Lexington location, said their staff took Cripps’ concept of engaging multicultural families and worked on the design of the microfarm, which will be about 23 feet wide by 12 feet deep and will have raised beds.
All students and parents will be encouraged to have a role in the microfarm, including the refugee and immigrant families who might not have ready access to gardens. Cripps hopes that some of the vegetables, flowers and herbs that are grown can be sold at a farmer’s market.
“One of the kids just arrived in the United States and the father is so excited as he was a gardener in his home country,” Cripps said. “When he was registering his child for school, he showed me pictures of his garden in Congo that he had on his cellphone.”
“Vegetable and herb gardens are very important whether you grow them or buy them at the farmers market,” parent Leticia Roblero said. “This is important because they are organic, grown without fertilizers or chemicals. With this garden, we will use the plants to prepare different dishes as well as use them for medicine. We will be able to share recipes with the families that are here from all over the world. This garden will help us all take care of our health.”