Preschool hoop house full of hope Enriching the lives of little seedlings

May 6, 2016

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Caterpillar hoop house at Sandler Family Campus.

Caterpillar hoop house at Sandler Family Campus.

A visit to the Strelitz Early Childhood Education Center’s garden reveals some changes. In fact, some rather sizable changes—an eight-foot tall caterpillar, to be exact. Situated next to the garden beds in the back yard of the Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus, the caterpillar is a hoop house, used for yearround growing.

A hoop house is similar to a greenhouse with some exceptions. A greenhouse usually uses a heater and ventilation fans, while a hoop house strictly uses solar heat and is cooled by the wind. And, instead of being a solid framed house, a hoop house is made of piping and greenhouse plastic that stretches over crops to form a cylindrical shape. Prolonged growing seasons, quicker and improved seed starting, and tropical planting opportunities are just a few of the benefits hoop house gardening provides.

Toward the end of February, Strelitz installed the hoop house for students to learn about nature, even during the winter months.

In March, the preschool turned the hoop house into a caterpillar.

Rooted in family traditions
Shawn and Ashley Lemke, owners of a landscaping and hardscaping business, Beach Ground Works, Inc., got the inspiration to found this garden and its additions from various aspects in their lives.

“My kids kind of think tomatoes come from the grocery store,” Shawn Lemke jokingly remarks when asked about what motivated the construction of the Strelitz Early Childhood Garden.

The groundwork began when his son, MJ, was in Strelitz Gan Gimel in 2012. During Family Week, students are encouraged to teach each other about their families’ interests. Since the Lemkes spend a lot of time outside planting plants and making vegetable gardens at home, it was only natural that they share their outdoor expertise with their son’s school. The different nature activities the Lemkes organized eventually led to the creation of the first garden.

Their little sprouting space generated a lot of interest, and has been used every season since for myriad purposes including garden parties and events. And, now, their daughter, Breckin, who is a kindergarten student at Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, is in the newly formed Garden Club that room moms started.

Israel’s influence
The Lemke children were one of the two driving forces. The other was the couple’s trip to Israel where they learned about the country’s agricultural and horticultural innovations. Shawn says he “was blown away by how involved Israeli families were in the food making process—from the garden to the table.”

He knew bringing those principals home were imperative for his children and the children of the Tidewater community.

Lemke says, “Irrigation, water harvesting, pollinators, and compositing are all trades and places for innovation in Israel. The garden can also serve to teach the value of hard work and being resourceful, something our kids need more of. Perhaps we have the next great innovator or sustainable farmer in our school right now. I want our children to understand that working with their hands is rewarding and can provide many things for many people.”

Continued growth
The Lemkes’ long-term goals for the garden are visionary.

Shawn says he wants the plots to provide agricultural education, as well as to be a resource that will enrich the students and the entire community.

Future additions could include irrigation modules to increase the yield of edible crops, while supplying the Cardo Cafe with their own local organic produce, and a stage to implement outdoor plays, performances, and concerts.

Lemke describes his dreams, “A place that mirrors the beauty of the memorial gardens in the front of our campus…. Maybe even a stage in the garden. Imagine watching a play or musical performance in the garden. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I hope that things like this would draw pieces of our community together.”

by Gaby Grune

Letter to the Editor