Roscoe school growing a class on specialty crops

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By Elizabeth Varin

ROSCOE – Asparagus. Beets. Yarrow.

Those are some of the specialty crops that can be grown in South Dakota and are being grown inside an Edmunds Central School classroom.

The seeds were planted in a classroom in Roscoe, sprouting an interest in specialty crops.

Edmunds Central is developing a specialty crop growing system that works in a classroom setting.

A sophomore science class is growing about 70 varieties of specialty crops and preparing to implement growing systems in as many as 50 other classrooms throughout the state. The project was made possible by a $64,000 grant from the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

The purpose of the grant is to increase sales and consumption of specialty crops. Specialty crops can include things like fruits, vegetables, honey, tree nuts, dried fruit and more, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“We were looking at ways to implement more plant science into our curriculum,” said high school science teacher Spencer Cody. “We saw this grant opportunity out there, and that paid for the equipment we’re using and has allowed us to do actual research at the high school, which is pretty interesting. We’re actually going to pilot the program, and this will be applied in other school districts.”

The grants were announced in October, with a total of $290,000 going to six specialty crop projects around the state, according to a news release from the state. The funds come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Light carts are set up near the window with trays of different crops stacked high. Spinach, collards, kohlrabi and caraway are planted in neat lines in the soil. Some have been grown from seeds, others from cuttings from vegetables.

The class has been a learning experience, as staff and students figure out what grows best in different conditions.

“I’m an avid gardener, and I’m learning a lot of stuff,” Cody said. “I had no idea you could regenerate a lot of this. We’ve grown some things from roots and stems and things like that. I never thought about the leftover (vegetables from making meals). You can just throw that in and regenerate a new crop.”

Not only is the class an opportunity for students to learn how to grow plants, but it also offers them a chance to refine their tastes. Earlier this month the sophomore students got the chance to taste green onions, mustard greens, bok choy and more.

Sophomore Maddie Crawford liked the green onions because they had more flavor than some of the leafy greens the students tried. She said that some of the crops tasted just like leaves.

It’s been a good class, Crawford said. And the skills students are learning are great for areas that aren’t near grocery stores.

Sophomore Paola Duran sees similar benefits.

“Now you know how to take care of your plants and how to grow them,” she said. “The things you buy at grocery stores aren’t always great. Sometimes it can be genetically altered or something like that.”

For sophomore Dylan Bukaske, it’s fun to see how the crops grow. He was surprised with how long some of them took to sprout.

“I thought they were going to take two days, but it’s interesting,” he said.

Edmunds Central was one of two school districts to receive specialty crop funding. The other, Hoven, received nearly $26,000 for a three-year program to grow its own fruits and vegetables in a greenhouse. The Hoven program is geared toward seventh- through 12th-graders, said agriculture teacher Sara Colombe.

The grant money covers propane costs to heat the greenhouse and equipment to grow plants.

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There will be summer training for teachers interested in having their own growing carts. The growing carts in Roscoe house the trays of crops and lights to grow the plants inside. The curriculum will be geared toward elementary school-aged students.

Teachers or administrators interested in participating can email

Spencer Cody, science teacher with Edmunds Central School District, moves containers of plants during class on Feb. 15. Farm Forum photo by Elizabeth Varin
Containers of plants line the wall in an Edmunds Central School classroom as part of a specialty crop research project. Farm Forum photo by Elizabeth Varin
Edmunds Central sophomore Paola Duran cuts samples of green onions for classmates to taste during class on Feb. 15. Farm Forum photo by Elizabeth Varin
Edmunds Central sophomores Paola Duran and Maddie Crawford plant specialty crops. Farm Forum photo by Elizabeth Varin