Wayne County FB brings some farmyard to the schoolyard

Story by Jeremy C. Nagel

BELLEVILLE, WAYNE COUNTY — Life took Lisa Pruess from tiny Hawks in rural Presque Isle County to the bustling suburbia of Detroit’s outer orbit, but it didn’t squeeze the farmer out of her.

“I grew up in northeastern Michigan, around a lot of farmers,” said Pruess, a teacher whose farm-friendliness made her a regular presence at the annual Wayne County Fair.

“I’ve been around animals my whole life,” and working with young livestock exhibitors—including students from her elementary school—she inevitably fell in with some involved members of the local Farm Bureau.

“Lisa was active in the county fair for a long time,” said Carl Graham, a member of Wayne County Farm Bureau’s board of directors. “We signed her up as a member last year, not long before she became principal at Savage Elementary School.”

That move from teacher to administrator gave Preuss the opportunity to follow through with an idea that’d long been on her mind: a hands-on agricultural experience for elementary students, on school grounds.

“I taught kindergarten for 10 years, and found our kids didn’t know where their food came from,” Pruess said. “I wanted my students to understand that better, and how important it is.”

In previous years she’d hosted students on her own 18-acre farm near the Wayne-Washtenaw county line. But now, in her second year as principal at Savage Elementary School in Belleville, she wanted to bring the farming experience closer to her entire student body.

Graham and his wife Kim—Wayne County’s Promotion and Education co-chair—helped Pruess develop a plan for tilling a parcel of the Savage schoolgrounds and involving its student body to seed the ground by hand. After measuring off a generous piece of the schoolyard, county president Mike Sell turned over the plot last fall and disced it earlier this spring.

“We did soil samples with the kids—Wayne County Farm Bureau paid for that,” Preuss said. “Our older students did slideshow presentations on agriculture in Michigan at our weekly town hall meetings so kids had information about the many different crops grown across the state.”

Wayne CFB planting day PMay 18 was planting day.

“They can get all their stuff planted now, then it’s got all summer to mature,” Graham said. “Then in the fall, when the same kids come back as fourth-graders, one of their projects will be harvesting the crops they planted before they got out of school.”

Wayne County board member Phil Selter donated all the corn, soybean and gourd seeds for the project. The relatively low-maintenance corn and soybean plants shouldn’t require much maintenance over the summer.

“That’s why we chose field corn instead of sweet corn,” said Preuss, who added that she’d recruit some of her teachers and Garden Club members to handle any necessary weeding.

“Once the gourds come up, I’ll put straw down” and keep her eye on them until the next school year begins at summer’s end. “When we come back we’ll have a harvest day.”

As Promotion and Education chair, Kim Graham eagerly testifies to Preuss’ passion for helping students better understand food production.

“We did Ag in the Classroom in the school last year and they have just gone wild with it,” she said. “They have a garden club with 58 kids, and they have the whole school community behind them, with parents and grandparents volunteering.

“This was a dream of Lisa’s and it’s awesome to see it come to fruition.”