South Charlotte

Providence senior plants a seed at Lansdowne

At Lansdowne Elementary, it's all about planting a seed, caring for it and seeing it through till harvest. Providence High School senior Quinn Holmquist has had a hand in that.

Holmquist, 17, wrote his graduation project paper on "food deserts," areas (mostly low-income) without easy access to healthy, affordable food.

Inspired, Holmquist decided to help a local school build a small raised garden for the second part of his project.

This June, he approached Rama Road Elementary, but found the school already had a successful garden.

Then he tried Lansdowne Elementary, off Providence Road, where about 42 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. Unbeknownst to Holmquist, Lansdowne Principal Gwen Shannon had been brainstorming ways to incorporate sustainability in the curriculum.

When Holmquist met with Shannon, she showed him the Parent Teacher Organization's purchase just a few weeks earlier: a small greenhouse.

It took the 17-year-old and principal a couple days' work in the rain and mud to assemble it.

"We bonded over building a greenhouse, and from there it really started growing," said Shannon.

When school started, Holmquist began working with the fourth-graders, whose curriculum involved nutrition.

Before he started, Holmquist conducted a few surveys.

One was on how many nights a week students ate fruits and vegetables. Many said zero.

A couple days a week, Holmquist leaves Providence and heads to Lansdowne for the elementary school's last period of the day, science class. His friends from church and school often come to help out.

He teaches in the classroom some days and others he spends hands-on in the garden. "They jump up and down and yell his name," said fourth-grade teacher Lindsay Grist. "It's really exciting to have an outside perspective."

In just a couple of months, the fourth-grade project is now a school-wide initiative.

Every grade has its own raised beds to care for, with spinach, peas, beans, lettuce, radishes and more.

Though it's only September, the project has blossomed. The school now has rain barrels, compost bins and a pumpkin patch.

Students are studying the soil, the roots and plant care, such as how to thin them and clean them when they're ready to eat.

"That's something they grew with their own hands," said Holmquist. "When kids bring it home, that's where change happens."

This science and nutrition lesson also incorporate other academic disciplines.

Students are graphing the results of Holmquist's surveys, and once they get a few pumpkins and vegetables, they'll start measuring diameter, circumference and weight, and even test out a few recipes.

Once the kids get a chance to taste the fruits of their labors, Shannon says she'd like the students to donate some of the food to an area food bank.

"If you give a little, you'll be surprised how much you'll receive," she said.

Holmquist attributes the project's success to the support from the principal, the teachers and the PTO, which even formed a gardening committee to help with the upkeep.

Holmquist and Shannon hope other schools will be inspired to start similar projects.

"Everything starts with one small step," said Shannon.

And just one little seed.