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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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Community gardeners eye parcel at Greco Middle

TEMPLE TERRACE - Months after community garden organizers turned land behind Riverhills Elementary School into a lush plot brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, they are vowing to expand the project to a second area school. Members of the Temple Terrace Community Garden have set their sights on land behind Greco Middle School at East Fowler and Gillette avenues. Collaborating with Greco Principal Yinka Alege and the school's Parent Teacher Student Association the community garden group has chosen a parcel at the rear of the school adjacent to the athletic track. "The garden will look similar to what has been done at Riverhills Elementary," said Elizabeth Leib, president and communications director for the Temple Terrace Community Garden Initiative.
But unlike the Riverhills Elementary effort, where community gardeners stepped in to help keep the garden afloat, this time they are seeking a potential donor or several supporters to help them get the project started. In addition to a Greco PTSA donation and potential project grants, organizers will need at least $1,000 to help cover the cost of a new irrigation system and fencing, Leib said. "We don't have any extra fat to throw around," the community garden leader said. Its members also hope the enthusiasm and energy expressed by Riverhills students for gardening will rub off on Greco sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. The small garden tucked behind Riverhills Elementary is tended year-round. During the academic year, members of the school's Dragonflies, a group of students chosen by Riverhills teachers, assist their instructors and community gardeners. Volunteers till the soil, plant, water and harvest the crops. Within the past year, the 30-by-85-foot site has given members of the community garden group a place to get to know one another better as they prepare to open a larger garden at nearby Riverhills Park. The garden in the park is set to debut Oct. 24, as part of a Greater Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce event. Community garden organizers now are focused on launching the fruit and vegetable patch at Greco Middle. "We want to start small at Greco," Leib said. The gardening program aims to offer middle school students a chance to learn how to grow, maintain and harvest healthy foods and celebrate nature, she added. As two schools with long histories in Temple Terrace, Riverhills and Greco are seeing more people take an active role in the academic success of students at both campuses. "It's our small way of contributing to that," Leib said. Alege is thrilled. Sprucing up the Greco campus is one of the principal's short-term goals to improve the school's culture and increase academic excellence. "When I think of my focus I think of establishing a positive school culture, [a campus] where students and staff want to be," Alege said. Alege was appointed in April to lead Greco after serving four years as an assistant principal at King High School. Since then he has recruited support from Luke Brothers Lawn Services to donate 100 yards of mulch. Idlewild Baptist Church congregants spread the wood chips in school flower beds and along the breezeways. University of South Florida fraternity and sorority members painted the buildings. And a local artist etched a large portrait of the school's mascot, a lion cub, on the exterior wall of a classroom building. Greco PTSA Treasurer Sherrie Glow is confident the gardening project will get done. "We think it's an exceptional opportunity" for Greco students, Glow said. Placing the garden near the athletic track will draw students and area adults who go there for a jog or bicycle ride. "Seeing the community get involved with the school is invaluable beyond words," Glow said.

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