MOHAWK, Mich. (WJMN) – On Saturday, volunteers came together to build a garden at Horizons Alternative High School.

The project was made possible by a rural development grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to integrate gardens into educational and social service programs at Horizons and Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter.

“We are very excited and thankful for this opportunity that has been provided for our students,” said Joel Asiala, Principal at Horizons Alternative High School. “Our students will benefit greatly from this program as they will learn culinary and life skills that will help them now and for many years to come.”

New culinary and therapeutic gardens will be collaboratively designed, built, and integrated within the existing curriculum and programming to support student and client skill development. The culinary garden will be incorporated into the current cooking classes at Horizons Alternative High School, contributing to the expansion of programming, supported by the Portage Health Foundation, to mitigate the impacts of trauma and food insecurity among students.

The therapeutic and children’s sensory gardens at the Gundlach Shelter will create a healing space for gender-based violence survivors and provide safe green space for clients, visitors, and resident children. Class integration within Michigan Technological University Department of Social Sciences’ Sustainability Science and Society degree program courses will provide additional project sustainability for both gardens.

A team of students from Horizons science and math teacher Meg North’s geometry class designed the garden and determined how many blocks they would need to complete the shape.

“From this point forward, my biology students take over with soil science where they can learn how to test soil, what are the needs of the soil, we research the plants that will be growing. We find out what they need, do research, and we use our experts that have been along with us this whole entire time to help us make sure that the soil is going to give the plants what they need,” said North.

One of those soil experts is Abbey Palmer, an educator at MSU Extension’s Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center.

“We all think ‘Where does our food come from?’ And when we have a chance to experience that from planting the seed, to taking care of the plant, and eventually using it in a recipe and eating it, that is a really interesting journey. And there’s a lot of points along the way for learning and connections to curriculum. So I think it’s important for students because hands-on and experiential learning are things that they really remember,” said Palmer.

The project will benefit an estimated 200 Gundlach Shelter residential clients, 78 Horizons High School students, and 40 Michigan Tech undergraduates in its first year through the integration of the garden development within therapeutic programming and course curricula.

“We are very grateful to be included in this grant,” said Mary Niemela, Director of the Barbara Kettle Gundlach Shelter. “Providing a garden space for our clients can be beneficial to their emotional well-being from being victimized. If there are children involved, gardening can help them heal in a peaceful setting. It won’t be just the planting of flowers and the picking of weeds; it will be the collaborative effort of working along-side others in similar situations. Also, in a pleasant environment and maybe learning a new skill. We look forward to working as part of the team to implement this project.”

The 18-month project will be administered by Rachael Pressley, Assistant Regional Planner at the Western U.P. Planning & Development Region. Dr. Michelle Seguin, Director of Community Health at Portage Health Foundation, will provide medical oversight of project implementation and assist Dr. Angie Carter, MTU Department of Social Sciences, in research analysis and evaluation. Abbey Palmer, educator with MSU Extension’s Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, will provide garden consulting services and training. Michigan Tech’s Department of Social Sciences students taught and advised by Dr. Carter will assist with the facilitation of focus groups and partner interviews to guide project implementation and evaluation.