When the last school year ended at Perry Meridian High School, an eyesore existed just outside the cafeteria with a view that was appalling.
The area, except for a small concrete area with tables, was completely overgrown with weeds and a wooden pagoda built by the Class of 1998 that was in disrepair.
What was known as a “jungle” has been transformed into a garden with vegetables and plants, a pergola and senior patio where the pagoda once stood.
It is a place of beauty where vegetables are grown by the high school’s Enviro Club students and where seniors can gather in comfort.
The food garden was the brainchild of Jordan Robbins, Class of 2019, who went to PMHS teacher and Enviro Club sponsor Jessica Hunter with the idea for “die tafeln,” a German word that means “the table.” He envisioned a place with a food garden that would benefit the school and community and a place where seniors could gather.
During his senior year, Robbins wrote a grant application to Whole Foods that was approved and the project began to take shape in early June.
The food garden has several raised beds for growing sweet potatoes, cucumbers, four different varieties of tomatoes, three different bell peppers and lettuce, plus carrots, beets, watermelon, squash and green onions. Herbs are being grown in hanging baskets.
“The premise is that everybody gathers at a table and you share,” club sponsor Hunter said. “Certainly this is a place to grow and share food with others and also a place of beauty.
The crops grown in the garden can go to needy students, food pantries and others in the Perry community. It complements a program, The Sharing Table that provides food items not eaten by PMHS students to pantries. The leftover food items go to needy persons in Johnson County.
Now studying in college in Germany, Robbins contends, “This food garden seeks to grow people as much as it does the food that lies inside its dirt. At every table, people sit, study, eat and share stories with each other. This food garden thrives off the involvement of students and community members, intertwining the lives of people like the roots of the plants. And, come harvest time, we hope the impact can be seen.”
After the school received the grant, then-junior Charles Stoner, who is hopeful of a military academy appointment, began looking for a senior project. He asked Hunter what he could do.
Although the only construction experience he had was building shelves in his bedroom, Stoner decided to build a pergola, an open structure with parallel colonnades supporting an open roof with girders and cross rafters, adjacent to the garden.
“I didn’t realize the dimensions and how big it would be compared to a normal size pergola,” Stoner said of the 325-square foot pergola. “Digging the holes, we ran into a lot of concrete under the ground, so that delayed us from starting. This showed me how meticulous construction must be – everything has to be perfect. I have a lot of respect for people who do construction work for a living.”
Many students, Enviro Club members, wrestling team members, parents and retired teachers worked on the garden and the pergola.
Stoner rounded up help from students Zach Bunnell, Tandrew Nguyen, Ridge Cavallero, Kyle McKee, Kevin Waggoner, Luke Nye, Karsor Dennis and Ben Owen.
Seniors Nguyen and Bunnell and junior club president Bailey Riddle are among Enviro Club members who care for the garden. Riddle wants to major in environmental science in college. They also assisted in building the garden and pergola.
They recalled their experiences.
Nguyen: “The garden is a means to help the community; we will be donating the fruits and veggies to people in need. For the seniors, this gives them a place to go. This project took a lot of time along with a summer reading project and getting ready for the new school year. I learned how to focus and become productive.”
Bunnell: “Fortunately, I knew how to use a lot of the tools, but this project shows that anybody can make something look as awesome as this (pergola). This shows that we care about doing something for the community. We wanted to set a precedent for seniors in the future to tackle big projects. It also showed me that you can’t give up. I’m really proud of how it turned out. This is really cool.”
Bailey: “This club is the perfect place for me. When I heard about the project, I was interested to see how it would turn out. It feels like it was done quickly with a random bunch of teenagers coming together as a team. I had a summer job, so this pushed me to see how much I could do and to manage my time.”
Stoner looked back on the total experience and concluded, “This couldn’t be built without the friendships of the Perry community.”
Robbins’ “die tafeln” is about food, friendships and helping the school and community.