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Ridgewood High School Garden Club members learn about growing a business

Offering fresh tomatos, basil and peppers a the Norridge Farmers Market are (from left) Alex Hanns, Jolanta Pach and James Witkowski, members of the Ridgewood High School Rebel Roots. The club tended its first garden over the summer, and now is selling the fruits of its labors. |  Cathryn Gran/Sun-Times Media
The produce still grows in the Ridgewood High School Garden Club’s plot near the school tennis courts. | Cathryn Gran/Sun-Times Media

Facts

Norridge Farmers Market The market is held on the third Wednesday of the month during the summer. The next market will be the last of this year. When: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 18. Where: In the parking lot just east of the Sieb Center, 7774 W. Irving Park Road.

Instead of lying around vegetating this summer, a group of Ridgewood High School students took to growing vegetables.

The newly-formed gardening club, called the Rebel Roots, took a plot of land by the school tennis courts and turned it into a truck farm, growing such staples as tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, carrots, potatoes and squash as well as basil and parsley.

Club members Alex Hanns, Jolanta Pach and James Witkowski showed off the fruits of their labor at the Norridge Farmers Market Aug. 21.

Witkowski said he was born into gardening.

“My grandmother knows how to grow anything that you can grow in Chicago — watermelon, pickles, beans and tomatoes of course,” he noted. “I started doing it as a hobby because it’s basically free, organic food.

“I also like to grow herbs.”

Pach credited Carol Valentino-Barry, who among her myriad duties runs the school’s mentoring program, with helping her realize her goal of learning how to garden.

“I always wanted to do this,” Pach said. “It’s always fascinated me.”

In addition to learning how to grow her own food, Pach said she also enjoyed the community service aspect of the project.

“We’re able to donate to the Salvation Army (food bank) and to our own school,” she noted.

Hanns has a different outlook on the garden.

“I approach it from a business aspect,” he said. “I keep track of sales, how much we sell, give away. The planning.”

He praised Pach for her scheduling skills.

She noted volunteers would come out the field around 8 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays to weed and water the plants.

“The amount of volunteers varied throughout the summer,” she said. “But Ms. (Allison) Goodman was always there.”

Goodman is a former student who now works in the library and serves as advisor to the Yearbook and Garden clubs.

“On Thursdays we’d hold business meetings,” Pach said.

Hann said the garden was a way to learn about agriculture and business, with all produce grown organically.

Also helping the Rebel Roots was Kathleen Ermitage, who worked on the business end by helping students with such tasks as writing a business plan, coming up with philanthropic goals and developing strategies, according to Hann.

The club first started meeting in March with preliminary discussions focusing on what the members wanted to grow; why they wanted to do this; and what did they want to learn from the experience.

One thing they learned was that a lot of work goes into preparing the ground to accept a garden.

“We rototilled the ground to break up the soil, and put straw waddles and new dirt into place, forming 10 rows and one larger area,” Hann explained.

Their labors paid off, though.

At its first farmers market sale, which was at Independence Park in Chicago, Rebel Roots sold out of all its produce in less than two hours.

Fresh produce was on Beata Corson’s mind as she passed the Norridge market on her way home.

“I was coming from work, and I saw the market,” she said. “I stopped because I like fresh food.”

Having someone validate their efforts is quite a thrill for the trio of gardeners.

“I like using my gardening skills,” Witkowski said. “I had fun, and it feels good to know I have a green thumb.”

Pach said being able to grow vegetables was rewarding.

“I was really proud of the corn,” she said.

Hann enjoyed learning about the various business aspects of running a garden.

“So many different things go into it,” he said. “There’s creating and distributing flyers to let people know about it.”

“There’s keeping track of sales and keeping up the Facebook page.”

Exchanging the chance to lay around all summer for working hard to grow produce has its rewards, as was evident by the smiles that graced the faces of the gardeners when customers acknowledged the effort.

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Facts

Norridge Farmers Market The market is held on the third Wednesday of the month during the summer. The next market will be the last of this year. When: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sept. 18. Where: In the parking lot just east of the Sieb Center, 7774 W. Irving Park Road.
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