Summer crops

While most students and teachers at Notre Dame are enjoying a few months off during the summer, one area of the school is still going strong. And that's benefiting some local food banks.

In a story published this week by National Public Radio, a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census of about 18,000 public, private and charter schools found that more than 7,000 gardens were based in schools across the country. It also said that close to half of all surveyed reported participating in some kind of agronomic activities, such as tending campus gardens, promoting locally grown products in schools or taking field trips to local farms.

The NPR story also said that local networks of small urban farms, grassroots community organizations and partnerships with nonprofits, including schools, are changing how people in underserved neighborhoods think about their food choices, which in turn is helping to promote healthier eating.

All of which dovetails nicely with what has been going on in Notre Dame's advanced greenhouse — even during the summer months.

According to Carolyn Tuski, Notre Dame's botany teacher and greenhouse manager, there is no time off for growing season at the school.

"The beauty of having a greenhouse like ours is that we can grow year round," she said. "We have a controlled environment where I can regulate the temperature, amount of carbon dioxide, the amount of sunlight and more 12 months of the year."

Which is great when school is in session and there are literally hundreds of "student-gardeners" available to work in the greenhouse, which opened in the fall of 2018 as part of the school's new science, art and technology wing. But what happens during summer vacation?

"Even though the students are not on campus, some have been coming back to help me maintain the gardens and greenhouse," said Tuski, who graduated from Notre Dame Prep in 2010. "They also have helped me design and plant our outdoor beds with some of our plants started in the greenhouse. And they pull a fair amount of weeds as well."

During the school year, many of the leafy greens and vegetables grown in the greenhouse are used as part of the Notre Dame lunch menu. But the veggies keep growing during the summer and once they are harvested, they have to go somewhere. For some of the needy in the local community, that somewhere is on their plates. 

"Near the end of this past school year, we donated many of the plants we started in our greenhouse to the Oakland Hills Community Garden in Oakland, Mich.," Tuski said. "We also grew plants, including collard greens, for Micah 6 in Pontiac."

She said that as far as the extra plants during this summer, most of them will be donated and she's held a small plant sale for the school's summer staff.

"Also, our hydroponic tomatoes have been growing like crazy," she said. "We're just about ready to harvest them. We'll start off by donating them and then plan to have a tomato sale once it gets closer to the beginning of the school year." 

Tuski added that she's also doing an annual deep cleaning of the greenhouse this summer and preparing it for next semester. 

"Additionally we need to water and maintain the hydroponic equipment on a regular basis," said Tuski, who can be found in the greenhouse five or six days a week during the summer. 

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at