Agriculture, art merge in middle school mural project

Everyone is well aware of STEM in schools, but what about the combination of art, agriculture, and P.E.? 

In a project led by agriculture teacher Kerri Battishill Ladd, a bleak corner of Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace has been successfully transformed into a colorful paradise with murals, hydroponic gardens, and play areas with the help of a $4,000 grant from Fuel Up to Play 60.
“This grant program is sponsored by the NFL [National Football League] and the National Dairy Council. We needed to incorporate healthy eating and dairy in our proposal, as well as physical fitness. When I first had the idea for the patio, it was just this blank area. I wanted it to turn into an exciting area for four square, basketball and that’s how I got hooked up with Kim,” says Ladd.
Kim Straub, one of the artists of “Pete & RePete” (Pete Lawson is her partner in creative, and together they teach art classes at the Temple Terrace Rec Center), first met Ladd at the Temple Terrace Preservation Society’s Temple Orange Grove Marker Ceremony and got them involved in the beautification of Greco’s new 3,000-square-feet garden space.
“She asked us if we would be interested in making a mural and putting the Fuel Up logo on the wall. We started in April and finished 6 months later, but it was really hot out there! We started brainstorming to see how we could use art as a way of learning different kinds of art to have mini lessons, like learning perspective, since they don’t have an arts program. Art is really great for confidence building and motor skills, and a way to open your inner self, ” Straub says.
Mural takes on life of its own
What started out as a simple task of painting the Fuel Up logo ended up turning into an elaborate immersive mural. While Pete & RePete led the majority of the of the painting, they got as many people as they could involved from students to even getting Principal Valerie Newton to paint a few flowers.
“The kids were a huge part of the mural because we had to put a coat of sealer on everything. We had big mops and rollers, and the kids would come out and take turns helping us. They were really good at it. They also made flowers with sponges and did some of the corn. Others offered ideas on what to do on the outside of the wall. Then I got the brainy idea to paint the brick ‘fence’ around it,” Straub says.
From there “Greta the Guernsey” emerged: a happy cow painted on the short brick wall that you can straddle and it looks like you’re riding her. At some point, they ended up running out of paint and other materials, but the community stepped up to help out. A Glidden representative donated 5 gallons of paint, and Ace gave another 5 gallons of paint for the koi pond. The Women’s Club and Sharon Donahue each kicked in another gallon of paint, while Winn Dixie donated food for their ribbon-cutting event.
“It was really touching to see how everyone came forward and gave their support. The community at large is very excited and couldn’t believe that this once blank space turned into a teachable, beautiful spot for the kids. I really feel that it will be well taken care of because the students really appreciate it. It’s theirs, and I think they have a lot of ownership in it since they were a part of this project,” Ladd says
Eating the fruits (and veggies) of their labor
For the agriculture part of the project, Ladd created a hydroponic wall system where plants are grown vertically along the wall and the water is continuously recycled through the planters. In the future, Ladd is planning on incorporating aquaponics (where fish waste is turned into nutrition for the plants) and vermiculture (using worms to decompose food waste from the cafeteria into nutrient-rich soil).
“The kids are really learning where there food is coming from, and how to make it, and make better choices to eat. We have a culinary department, so they get to use what they grow to make pancakes and muffins. The students that have been involved through years are very conscious about this now,” Ladd says.
With the responsibility that comes with keeping daily maintenance and care for their garden, this project has given the kids both pride and confidence in what they’ve created.
“Kids need time outside, to dig in the dirt and play. You just have to see the look on the kids’ faces when they dig out a sweet potato for the first time. My plan is to continue to educate the children about life as a whole. Take in the arts, take in exercise, take in healthy decisions, and help the kids become leaders. The grant and project allows each kid shine,” Ladd says.

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Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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