John Steines installs his art on a corn crib at Silverwood County Park.
"You need to see it to really appreciate it," says Edgerton High School Principal Mark Coombs of Dane County's new Silverwood County Park. "It's almost 300 acres of not just woods, but lake frontage and agriculture."
Edgerton schools are among the first to use Silverwood, billed as "South Central Wisconsin's Sustainable Agriculture Classroom." On-the-ground development is still in the early stages, but its Friends group and its partners are celebrating a productive first year raising produce on site, removing invasive species, building hiking trails and preparing the outbuildings and 1840s farmhouse for future renovation. Eventually, they hope to have a classroom building, commercial kitchen and livestock barn at Silverwood.
Groups working on -- and now enjoying produce from -- the eight acres of gardens already established are Edgerton schools staff and students; Albion Renegades 4-H; the Madison-based Freedom Inc. (whose garden benefited 140 Hmong families); an Operation Fresh Start crew; and UW-Extension, which is researching cover crops.
Edgerton schools use Silverwood produce in the lunch program. "Obviously, it promotes a healthy lifestyle," says Coombs, "but it also shows kids, 'What you're doing [in the park] is making an immediate impact on people in Edgerton.'"
During the first week of school, the kitchen served 350 pounds of Silverwood melons, zucchini and tomatoes. By late summer, the Edgerton gardeners' efforts had also provided 656 pounds of produce to the Edgerton food pantry and another 534 pounds to the Free Vegetables for School Children program in Madison.
This summer, artists transformed 10 wire corn cribs at Silverwood for the agriculture-inspired exhibit "Ten Variations on a Theme." Edgerton High School art teacher Emily McCabe and her students took on a corn crib. On another crib, gardeners from Freedom Inc. shared traditional Hmong designs. Artist Thomas Ferrella wove four enormous portraits into the wire mesh sides of his corn crib. The "Ten Variations" exhibit will remain up through April 2015 or until the art disintegrates.
Silverwood County Park is named for the late Irene Silverwood, an Edgerton High School teacher for more than 40 years, who donated the southeastern Dane County farm in 2001. According to her wishes, it will remain a working farm and be used for education. Her late husband, Russell, served on the Dane County Board and worked the farm that had been in his family since the 1840s.
The park is still being developed; currently there is no signage marking the main entrance at 771 Silver Lane, says Dane County Parks Director Darren Marsh, but there is new signage on Hwy. 106 indicating the Sweet and Rice lakes water access site. The park is open to the public, but hiking trails are still under development. Tours are available to introduce visitors to the working farm; call Katie Vance-Whitten of the Friends group at 608-289-9627.