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Planting the seeds of compassion in Carbondale

Carbondale Community School students donate garden harvest to seniors

From left, Ella Lewis, Claire Brock and Harper Campbell wash potatoes at Carbondale Community School.
Charlie Wertheim

Carbondale Community School is faced with several spadefuls of spare spuds.

The residents of Crystal Meadows Senior Housing will benefit from the bonus bounty.

The school, in the Satank section of Carbondale, has had a garden for seven years, and for five years has used the harvest for hot lunches on five Fridays, said Diana Alcantara, who normally teaches Spanish to kindergartners through fourth-graders and runs the learning garden.

COVID gave that tradition a one-two punch. Alcantara has less time to tend the garden as her responsibilities have shifted. 

“This year we teamed up. We’re helping Diana out because she is taking on distance learners instead of teaching Spanish and being in the garden with the kids. We’re helping her to harvest,” third- and fourth-grade language arts teacher Mandi Read said.


Carbondale Community School students dig potatoes in the learning garden.

Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

So the harvest is on. The hot lunches are not. The food preparation requires lots of people working closely together in the kitchen, and COVID restrictions prohibit that.

Alcantara found a way to use the garden to teach a new lesson to the kids.

At the end of last school year, she and a couple of moms and their daughters planted the garden, “knowing that it would all be grown to donate to an organization that supports families and community members that would be experiencing food insecurity.”

She decided to call this a compassion project after hearing on KDNK about people working to the benefit of others through the pandemic.

“The compassion came from still participating in the garden, doing the work, but knowing that it’s all going to be donated. And maybe not ever meeting the people who will receive the food but knowing that our compassion for the situation moved us into action,” Alcantara said.

The students seem to appreciate the service aspect of gardening this year.

“It’s a good project to do because we can help people,” fourth-grader Finn Kelly said.

Fourth-grader Ella Lewis likes the project — and pretty much everything about gardening.

Charlie Wertheim / Post Independent

“I really like gardening. I like doing it for people that might need it more than we do; I really like washing the potatoes; I like harvesting food,” she said.

Post-COVID the school could return to the hot lunch tradition or continue donating the harvest. Or maybe both.

“I’d do half-half for the year,” fourth-grader Harper Campbell said. Lewis agreed.

A free farmers market at Crystal Meadows Senior Housing is scheduled for the week of Oct. 19.

Alcantara said students won’t be able to attend, but they are decorating bags that seniors can use to take their produce home.

Jerilyn Nieslanik, director of Crystal Meadows Senior Housing, is enthusiastic about the project, though possibly a little more from the viewpoint of the students.

“It’s a great experience for the kids. Anytime you can teach young children to love the land it’s a good thing,” she said.

She’s still concerned about keeping the high risk population safe from COVID and said she still needs to work out the details of the farmers market.

“We’ve been very blessed not to have COVID here, and I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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