CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — At Cuyahoga Falls High School, Steve McIntosh is an intervention specialist and Steve Newlan is a government and social studies teacher. But every week day at 2 p.m., they become agriculture science teachers.
McIntosh and Newlan are the teachers of a pilot class that is a social studies elective at Cuyahoga Falls High School called Intro to Urban Agriculture. About 40 students are taking the class.
“We started this garden in the first place because we saw a need. There's plenty of people that aren't, that don't have access to healthy, fresh produce,” said McIntosh. “And we wanted to provide an opportunity for students of all walks of life to come together, regardless of background, regardless of academic ability, to work on a single project.”
There's more than just vegetables growing in the garden; the high school students tending to them are growing, too.
"They're out here every day — harvesting, planting, watering, weeding, weighing — doing everything that you need to do to make sure that you're successful in your garden,” said McIntosh. “The learning happens while we're doing so while we're picking vegetables with the students, we're explaining why these vegetables are growing this way, what planting them is doing to the soil, how we can make the soil healthier for next year.”
It’s a hands-on class that is a favorite for many of the students, including Lucas Parsons Moughler, a senior at Cuyahoga Falls High School.
“It’s very much one of my favorite classes,” said Parsons Moughler. “I really like gardening. It's like a comforting feeling almost because it's like, I don't know. For some reason, when I think of gardening, I think of family, like bringing everybody together and putting effort in something to grow something beautiful."
The garden is an extension of the classroom, one McIntosh thinks every school should have.
“Just like every school has a gymnasium or a cafeteria. I think they should have a learning garden,” said McIntosh. “This teaches life skills. It teaches patience. It teaches hard work, problem solving and collaboration. It allows them to take what they're learning in their other classes and apply it to a real world problem.”
Not only do the students benefit, but also the community. Much of the food is donated to nonprofits in the area such as Cuyahoga Falls Good Neighbors and the Akron Food Bank.
“We've donated over 2,000 pounds of food just this year alone. We're at something like over 6,000 since we started, so it just keeps getting bigger and better every year,” said McIntosh. “Exclusively last year, we donated over 2,800 pounds of food last year during the pandemic. We had students coming in after school evenings and weekends, making sure that we are harvesting food and getting it to the people that needed it here in our community.”
The class aims to bring students from all walks of life together to get their hands dirty and see the fruits of their labor put to good use.
“Everybody needs to eat and take care of themselves,” said Parsons Moughler. “And so when you're donating food to people, it's good because they’re eating and getting healthier. It's very beneficial because you get to learn stuff about gardening. And it's good to help people because there's not much of that in the world.”
Cuyahoga Falls High School is hosting a garden party on Sept. 21 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. that is open to the public. It's a chance for the community to celebrate the work of the season and eat some food from the garden. People can find more info and register on the school's website.