With tomato and pepper plants in hand, Mercy Northwest Arkansas co-workers and Cooper Elementary students are celebrating Earth Day with the official first planting of the Bella Vista Community Garden. Financed by a $40,000 grant from the General Mills Foundation, the garden is located at Mercy Clinic Bella Vista, just across the street from the school. The garden will be filled with an assortment of vegetables and will serve as an outdoor classroom with hands-on learning opportunities. Teachers plan to integrate curriculum with garden activities like tending and harvesting fruits and vegetables.
“This project just has a ‘feel good’ quality all the way around,” said Clark Ellison, Mercy regional vice president of Philanthropy. “From providing educational opportunities for the school to all the support from Bella Vista residents and businesses, this is a project that will keep on giving year after year.”
Cooper Elementary Principal Matt Young says the garden has been a long-time desire for the staff. "Our faculty has wanted a school garden for years. From math to science, there are many areas that our students can learn by helping with the garden. It will be a fun and educational way for them to grow."
Students will help plant before summer vacation and volunteers will help care for the plants over the summer; the University of Arkansas Master Gardeners will assist with larger jobs such as watering the beds. The Bella Vista community has been engaged from the start and will help develop the gardens, maintain the produce and share in the harvest.
The second phase of the project is an outdoor trail system providing physical fitness and education stations. The students will utilize the trail as an outdoor classroom, increasing physical activity while learning proper exercise techniques.
Mercy Clinic patients and community members will also have access to both the community garden and outdoor trail system, reaping the benefits of physical activity, stress relief and increased nutritional value from fresh produce.
The community garden is a partnership between Mercy, Cooper Elementary, and the University of Arkansas Master Gardeners.