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Goffstown High School teachers Jennifer Beauchemin and Mike Veilleux join students Nevin Houle and Connor O'Brien in the school's new community vegetable garden. (HENRY METZ/Union Leader Correspondent))

Goffstown students build garden one rock at a time

GOFFSTOWN - A project to create and cultivate a vegetable garden at Goffstown High School became a lesson in community building for senior Connor O'Brien.

"I was kind of surprised how it worked out," he said. "I was kind of caught off guard, but it showed how the school can come together as a community."

The community garden project began before April vacation, and it entailed students from the high school preparing the land and building the walls for the container beds where peas, cabbage, summer squash and zucchini will be cultivated.

The project was made possible through a $10,000 grant donated by the Harriet Kearney Thurber Charitable Gift Fund. Goffstown resident Suzanna Thurber, who recently retired from Fidelity, donated $5,000 to the fund. Fidelity donated $2,500.

"When they asked me what I wanted to see the money used for, I looked around and I told them I'd like to see it go to the school district, and they could use it for something with the environment," Thurber said.

The most obvious example of the community garden's sustainable character are the rocks. Hundreds of rocks - described as bigger than a softball but smaller than a basketball - form the walls that hold the soil and the seeds in place. They were brought to the school by hundreds of GHS students who picked them up wherever they could find them. One student loaded up his pickup truck with rocks that are now being used in the garden.

Earth sciences teacher Michael Veilleux said when there was a discussion about what to use for the walls of the container beds, several materials were considered. One material discussed was pressure-treated wood, but that idea was discarded after Veilleux made the point that chemicals used to treat the wood would leach into the soil and be absorbed by the fruits and vegetables being grown.

"It didn't really fit with the whole 'environmentally sound' idea of the garden," Veilleux said. "So I thought, we're going to need about a thousand rocks, and we have about a thousand students."

For one of those students, Nevin Houle, the community garden project turned out to be a lesson in how consuming locally grown food products can be good for the environment.

"When we buy food from other places, it takes a lot of fuel to get it here," he said. "But growing it here and eating it here - that uses no gas at all. That's kind of the whole idea of buying locally because it's better for the environment."

Veilleux said the next component of the community garden project is to get the school's cooking classes involved "so they're using the food and eating locally."

Beyond that, the students and staff plan to donate surplus fruits and vegetables to the Goffstown Network Food Pantry.

For the last several weeks, students in the school's Environmental Club have been growing vegetable seedlings that have germinated along classroom windowsills. Those young plants will be sold to the public next Thursday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m. in the front lobby of the high school.

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