SANDY SPRING — Tucked away on the grounds of Sherwood High School, lies a 1/3-acre farm surrounded by dense tree cover. There, science teacher Jill Coutts uses what used to be a failed tree nursery to teach students how to grow food, and connect with nature,
“I think connecting with the soil is important for kids,” Coutts said, “our students need to go outside and grow things because it is very satisfying.”
So What Else, a local charity focused on providing after-school programming for underserved kids, partnered with Sherwood to help organize the horticulture program.
“This is an experimental garden, where we are looking for long-term food solutions,” said Eric Lewis, a youth educator from So What Else.
The resource-heavy nature of modern food production is one problem that Lewis and the other volunteers are trying to solve. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production uses up 10 percent of the energy budget, accounts for 50 percent of land use, and 80 percent of the freshwater consumption in the United States.
According to Lewis, resources are conserved whenever possible at the farm at Sherwood. The farm features keyhole planters which require less water than traditional planters. Lewis also uses cloning to reduce the need to buy new seeds. When pruning a bush like the black currant, which grows berries high in antioxidants, Lewis will place the cuttings into a propagation tray in the Sherwood greenhouse. He can then grow five to six bushes from the cuttings, so the farm can plant more crops without needing to buy more seeds.
GrowingSOUL, a charity focused on reducing food waste, set up a composting system at Sherwood. The system was put in place to minimize waste from the farm and the surrounding community. GrowingSOUL picks up organic material, such as coffee grounds, from local homes. Sherwood then takes the organic matter and turns it into compost.
“It’s a living compost with worms, to break down material,” said Davey Rogner, a youth educator with GrowingSOUL who created the original design for the compost system. “We have a zero-waste mentality. When the compost is decayed, we put in on top of the garden.”
Coutts grows flowers in the greenhouse to sell locally to fund the program. She grows plants in the greenhouse using a soilless hydroponics structure. According to Coutts, while almost every high school in Montgomery County has a greenhouse, most of them are underutilized. So far, only three out of the 26 high schools in the County have programs similar to Sherwood’s.
The program has been a gateway for students to get involved in horticulture, and many students go on to get jobs in the field.
Coutts said, “I have a student now graduating from Montana State (with a degree) in horticulture. I have another student working with an environmental company EQR (Environmental Quality Resources) that mitigates storm water. There’s a lot of important jobs in the field that nobody knows about.”