Several TJJD campuses boast thriving edible gardens either as free-standing projects or part of the horticulture programs offered by Lone Star high schools.
These include two new promising gardens installed this spring at Ayres and Tamayo halfway houses, where students and staff carved out backyard beds and planted peppers, melons and other edibles.
Meanwhile, the large established gardens at the Gainesville and Edinburg facilities are bursting with life this June as tomatoes, squash, corn and greens mature and companion flowers bloom, brightening the campus and inviting beneficial insects like butterflies and ladybugs.
These venues provide students with opportunities to learn about horticulture and earn certificates they can use when they are ready for work.
At Gainesville, horticulture teacher Steven Seeds (whose parents apparently knew he was destined for this work) oversees sprawling outdoor beds and a greenhouse packed with flowers and vegetable plants where he and his horticulture students learn about planting and pruning, soils and amendments and how to vanquish plant pests.
Seeds’ gardens are a revolving cornucopia, with this year’s beds containing three types of corn, potatoes, Swiss chard, onions, cucumbers, wildflowers and cherry, Roma and beefsteak tomatoes. Serrano and jalapeno peppers grow in the greenhouse.
His horticulture students enjoy tending the gardens because they get to see and sample the fruits of their efforts, says Lone Star North Principal Eric LeJeune. “The kids love the little peppers, they really like the hot stuff.”
The youth also appreciate learning the applied sciences of horticulture and landscaping because it helps build skills they can use to get jobs at nurseries or landscaping companies, LeJeune and Seeds said. These vocations provide great entry-level jobs and also opportunities for creating one's own business, Seeds said.
Beyond that, many of the kids also already understand that gardens are an adjunct to self-sufficiency, a way to supplement one’s income and assure well-fed families.
“A lot of them tell me they have had gardens at home, mostly with grandparents, they tell me grandparents have instilled gardening with them,” said Seeds who’s managed the Gainesville program for five years following 40 years teaching a variety of vocational classes at North Texas schools in St. Joseph and Maybank.
“I like to help these kids, a lot of them have never had the help they needed,” he said. “They like for people to get in there and teach them stuff and help them to create a job for themselves when they get out.”
Over the last four years, some 100 students at the Gainesville campus have earned the Texas Nursery Landscape Association’s state certificate, he said. That has real meaning when they apply for work with nurseries or landscape companies.
At the Evins facility in Edinburg, horticulture teacher Timothy Hinds manages the classes and the plots. Hinds and his students grow tomatoes, carrots, greens and watermelon. He says the vegetable gardens will virtually shut down in the middle of the high hot season in July and August.
At Gainesville, too, the horticulture program will take a pause in the middle of summer, though students can continue with the book-learning aspect of the program.
Then soon it will time to plan and plant the fall gardens.