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This is no typical school garden & the story of too much compost

You have probably noticed the raspberries. Even if you don't have school-age kids, if you have walked on the 1000 block of East Dayton, the ripe red berries are hard to miss. They poke through the chain-link fence surrounding the Lapham Elementary School garden like a lure during the summer.

The fence has expanded recently, not to accommodate the raspberry bramble but instead to make room for new fruit trees. My kids like to play at the school playground in the summer, so I spend a lot of time pushing them on the swings while I ponder the garden that runs the length of the playing field.

Now that I know more of the story, I wish there were a sign. Something parents could read while their kids played, or maybe a plaque on the fence near the raspberries for passers-by. Because the story is great, and it is one the neighborhood can be very proud of.

It might say something like:

This garden is a model for how school gardens work. 

  • Every student at Lapham participates in classroom visits to the garden where they plant, harvest and taste food. 
  • Families take turns caring for the garden in the summer and take home the fruits of their labor. 
  • Extra produce goes to the Wil-Mar Center Food Pantry. 
  • Special grants have funded the garden expansion, as well as an irrigation system, nine fruit trees, hand-crank blenders, a wheel-chair accessible path, a solar oven, and a garden classroom. 
  • A salaried Garden Coordinator facilitates activities so that classes spend time in the garden every week (even the gym, art and music classes spend time in the garden).
  • This garden benefits kids, their families, and the neighborhood.


I see a friend of mine at the garden watering sometimes, so I asked her to tell me about it. She has been part of the Lapham Green Team for a couple years and has written the big-deal grants that are allowing the garden to grow. She loves the garden; says that it changed her. She feels now a part of the community in a way she didn't realize was possible and says she is committed to the garden beyond when her daughter graduates from Lapham.

"It all started because there was too much compost," she said to explain the recent expansion. Every kindergartner collected their own compost for just a week last year. They put it on scales, talked about diverting trash from landfills, and learned the biology of soil. A group called REthink is committed to innovate waste management solutions, so they helped the Lapham kids with the compost project. They all concluded that a larger garden was necessary to handle that much compost.

Now the garden is twice as big, and this fall the entire school will be composting for two months. I have a hard time picturing the enormity of that pile. Of course, that is one out of three meals, and only one school out of fifty in the Madison Metro School District. It's a lot of food waste, and a huge learning opportunity.

Many schools have gardens, but the Lapham garden is lucky to have a very supportive principal. Unfortunately, that is not to be taken for granted. The principal has made the garden part of the School Improvement Plan (all schools have a SIP) so that she can allocate resources into the garden and teachers are empowered to extend their classrooms outside.

Happily, the garden will be getting a sign, thanks to a grant specifically for Art in the Garden! All the students will be part of creating the three-dimensional mosaic tile sign. Lapham's Artist in Resident Lynn Lee, as well as Midwest Clay Project, will be guiding the project.

And the sign, proudly, will announce the new, totally appropriate garden name:

Lapham Outdoor Classroom 
and Community Garden!


I'm so glad to know this story. I am inspired by the common heroes of my neighborhood.

The sunflowers, now more than the raspberries, are the visual stunner but, in just a couple weeks, the sounds of children in school, yet outside, will be more that I know the story.


  1. Thanks for this! I have walked past the garden often and wondered who runs it. Now my questions have been answered. I love the community aspect of it!

    1. Thanks for your comment: I felt the same way! Schools are one of the natural hubs of a neighborhood, but if you don't have kids at the school, it might be hard to feel connected. I'm so glad you liked the story and thanks for taking a moment to say hello.