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ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — Sometimes, the beets are fresh enough to inspire a beat.

For 17-year-old Jovon Penn, it was the carrots and the cauliflower.

“Those are my favorites,” said Penn, who drafted a song about the Rochester Alternative Learning Center’s community garden in about four days.

The Post-Bulletin reports that the ALC students have been working to write and record a song to share the story of the “Green Thumb Initiative,” the school’s community garden that was created to give students hands-on experience at school.

On Tuesday, they had a little extra help putting the finishing touches on the song Penn wrote from Mike Arturi, a musician and educator with Universal Music Center in Red Wing. Arturi stopped by to help students record and produce the song during a one-day residency.

“They created the song,” Arturi said, “and I’m just helping them turn it into a finished product.”

The lessons from the garden provide students with real-world experience and can be tied to everything from science to English lessons, said the program’s creators and teachers Liz Quackenbush and Kathryn Sloan.

And that’s a story they’ve wanted to share.

“Liz and I believe in the power of music to unify a group and express feelings and ideas, so we felt it was a perfect way to get the word out about what these kids are doing in The Green Thumb Initiative,” Sloan said.

Last year, the program received a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield to do just that. It allowed them to purchase recording equipment; since then, students have made a few attempts at song writing, but nothing quite materialized.

“The kids have gone for it wholeheartedly both times, and created awesome pieces, but we could never figure out how to get them polished and recorded,” Sloan said.

Seeds were first planted in 2015, after Quackenbush and Sloan figured they could prepare students for life after graduation by teaching them skills such as gardening, grant writing and beekeeping.

Since that time, the group has landed two other grants, including a Statewide Health Improvement Partnership and another from the Rochester Area Foundation, to help with supplies and to get the word out about the garden.

“It’s great to see it all come together,” Quackenbush said. “I’m most impressed with the ownership and leadership (the students have) taken being a driving force behind the project.”

The group plans to shoot a music video as well, but they’re waiting until this spring, when they’ll be able to use the garden, in bloom, as a backdrop.


Information from: Post-Bulletin,