Lincoln Northeast High School garden sprouts into a successful venture

Lincoln Northeast High School students planted positive seeds in 2021 when they began planning for the high school’s first community garden.
Those initial ideas have sprouted into a successful venture for everyone in the neighborhood.
Students, parents, staff members and area residents celebrated the community garden Aug. 2 during an event called a Garden Gathering. The morning tour was designed to give people an in-depth look at the academic and societal benefits that students are harvesting from the garden. Organizers also wanted to tell residents about future plans for Lincoln Northeast’s garden, and they hoped to inspire them to spread the community garden concept throughout the city.
Brittney Albin, sustainability coordinator for Lincoln Public Schools, said she was happy to help people learn more about Lincoln Northeast’s outdoor space. Dozens of residents looked at thriving plants and vegetables in the garden before moving into the library for slideshow presentations and networking sessions.
“These Garden Gatherings are something we hold on a quarterly basis to provide resources and build connections between the local organizations and volunteers who are interested in supporting outdoor learning and gardens,” Albin said. “The tour really gives an opportunity to see one of many approaches that a school can take to maintaining a garden on their campus.”
Bailey Feit joined Albin for the outdoor and indoor presentations. Feit works in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and she is the CASNR/LPS early college and career STEM pathway coordinator at Lincoln Northeast. The focus program teaches students about FEWSS (food, energy, water and societal systems) concepts. She said Lincoln Northeast’s garden has produced many smiling moments for students there.
“It’s integrated into the curriculum at school, and that’s what makes it so exciting,” Feit told people while pointing to one of the garden beds. “It’s a really good learning experience for everyone.”

Students in Brooke Jambor’s English Language Learners (ELL) class proposed the idea of a community garden during the Spring 2021 semester. They were inspired to create their own outdoor classroom after reading a story called “Seedfolks” at school. They asked Lincoln Northeast Principal Keri Applebee if the school would support the project and she enthusiastically agreed.
Students then obtained assistance from many community partners as they began to turn their plans into reality. Volunteers built and installed four garden beds that included a variety of plants. Students collected seeds of each item and learned about important topics such as soil conditions and irrigation practices. They then watched with excitement as the garden began to spring to life.
Their efforts paid off even more in the 2022-23 school year. The FEWSS/Garden After-School Club led an expansion project that added a pollinator habitat, trellises, a cut flower bed, two stationary raised garden beds and four raised garden beds on wheels. The area also features a “three sisters” bed filled with corn, beans and squash and a corn bed containing sweet corn, popcorn and decorative corn.
Lincoln Northeast students Grace, Eva and Hoda spoke to visitors during the outdoor tour. They beamed as they talked about items ranging from sunflowers to fall vegetables. They later said indoors that they were happy to take part in the project.
“It’s been really interesting to me to see how the garden attracts pollinators and how that helps the environment,” Eva said. “It makes everything more sustainable, and that’s the whole goal of this. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this.”
“It’s been good to see the tomatoes grow this summer,” Hoda said. “I’ve enjoyed that.”

Kiegon is the fourth member of the current student group at Lincoln Northeast. He began learning more about gardening in middle school and has continued his agronomy interests on the LNE campus. He was inspired by family members such as his grandfather, who spent decades working as a farmer.
“Following in their footsteps is the most honorable thing I can do,” Kiegon said.
Kiegon spoke at length about his goal to develop a self-sustaining irrigation system for the garden. The student group is planning to build rain barrels that would store water throughout the year. They could then use the free water to nourish plants and vegetables during the growing season.
Feit said Grace, Eva, Hoda and Kiegon have many other goals for the 2023-24 school year. Feit said the group would like to install interpretive signs throughout the garden to help visitors learn more about the entire project. They also want to build a shed with solar panels on the roof, establish mentorship programs with area middle schools and create partnerships with local organizations and churches.

Feit told residents that students wanted to emphasize that everyone in the community is welcome in the garden.
“We’re trying to get the word out to people that there is a community garden here at Northeast,” Feit said. “We don’t have a fence and there’s a reason for that.”
Feit also felt the garden was a place for people from all backgrounds to grow friendship roots. She was a math teacher at LPS for 12 years before moving into her current role, and student gardeners at Lincoln Northeast have come from diverse family, economic and social experiences.

Feit and Albin both said the smiles that Grace, Eva, Hoda and Kiegon displayed were good indications of how the garden has made a lasting impact on many lives. They felt the positive seeds students planted more than two years ago have turned into a successful venture for everyone in the community.
“We’re continuing to take the vision those first students had and expand that each year,” Feit said. “We want the garden to bring people together.”

The next Garden Gathering will take place at Roper Elementary School during the second quarter. Participants will learn about hydroponics, tower gardens and gardening in the winter season. More information about the LPS garden program is available here.

Published: August 9, 2023, Updated: August 16, 2023

Bailey Feit leads a discussion during a Garden Gathering event at Lincoln Northeast High School on Aug. 2. Students, parents, staff members and area residents took part in the Garden Gathering. They learned about Lincoln Northeast's community garden during the morning.