Central Campus Environmental and Agricultural Sciences Academy has a rich history of providing hands-on learning to students, including studying and raising animals, plants, and flowers, and harvesting them for market.  In a few short years, the program will be adding fruit fresh from new trees thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. New Central Campus Horticulture teacher, Heidi Mandt, was just awarded $24,000 for the development of an orchard.

“I was very excited to learn we’d received the grant,” Mandt said, who was seeking an expansion of the program onto underutilized ground at the Agriscience property on the south side of Des Moines. “I know it will be an incredibly beneficial resource for our students to learn how to design, plant, and maintain an orchard.”

In addition to orchard plants and supplies, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant allows for the purchase of pollinators (bees) and their apiaries (hives). Students will learn about brood care, breed selection, routine maintenance, and honey extraction.

“I hope that we get apple trees going well and I’d love for lemon or citrus trees,” said Jaden Holland, a junior at Virtual Campus. “I’ll learn how fruits develop from flowers and understand how professionals do it.”

All of the fruit harvested from the orchard will be donated to local organizations to distribute to Des Moines families. The requirement is part of the grant, and Mandt’s way of paying her good fortune forward to others who could use a nutritious addition to their meals.

While Des Moines residents will be giving thanks for the locally sourced fruit, Central Campus has plenty to praise in their newly-hired Agriscience instructor.

“We’re certainly proud of her.” Central Campus Associate Principal Lisa Hill said. “A grant this size is quite a feat for a first-year teacher.”

Mandt wanted to extend her thanks to fellow staff members Kevin Anderson, Libby Becker, and Lori Brenno for helping with the application process. The DMPS Agriscience team will also work with Iowa State University horticulturalists on the project. Planting is scheduled to begin this Spring.

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