Vero’s Heroes: Planting Seeds with Anna Lanam

Volunteer Anna Lanam gets creative for a Dodgertown Elementary School gardening project

Anna Lanam’s joy in volunteering is contagious, so she has no trouble recruiting others
Anna Lanam’s joy in volunteering is contagious, so she has no trouble recruiting others.

“What else can we do?” That’s what Anna and Dick Lanam asked Kristen Racine, assistant principal and volunteer coordinator at Dodgertown Elementary School. The Lanams already serve as tutors at the school. And that’s in addition to volunteering at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore at least two days a week and participating in heaven only knows how many charitable activities in association with Community Church.

One of the items on the school’s wish list was a raised-bed garden, which the first-grade teachers wanted to complement their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) unit “How Does Your Garden Grow?” in which the students are learning about feeding the community through sustainable gardening. But the raised-bed garden was too big an undertaking for the time frame.

As Dick Lanam explains to Deborah Johnson’s first-grade class one afternoon in March, “My wife, Miss Anna, who is quite creative, said, ‘Let’s see if there’s another way we can do a garden.’”

Each “Garden in a Bag” will teach a first grader about the life cycles of plants and the role of sustainable gardening in feeding the community
Each “Garden in a Bag” will teach a first grader about the life cycles of plants and the role of sustainable gardening in feeding the community.

He continues, much in the style of a children’s story, “One night at 3:30 in the morning, she jumped up in bed and said ‘Eureka! We’ll grow vegetables in a bag!’”

Anna then set about planning the “Garden in a Bag” project, which turned out to be quite a hefty undertaking. First, she needed 82 reusable shopping bags, each of which would serve as a portable garden for a first grader. Having noticed the bags that Vero Beach Magazine gives away at GardenFest! and Under the Oaks, she stopped by the magazine’s office, with two positive results: She obtained the bags, and the editor in chief learned about an ordinary person reaching out to have a positive impact on the local community—one of Vero’s Heroes.

The next step for Anna was getting the plants going. From her own seeds, she started several hundred plants in small portable “pots” made from newspaper. Each child would receive a sunflower, a cherry tomato plant, and some beans.

Seeds sprout in temporary newspaper “pots” that facilitate relocation of the plants
Seeds sprout in temporary newspaper “pots” that facilitate relocation of the plants.

In response to a comment that she must really have a green thumb, Anna laughs, “I guess so. Or else I need my head examined!”

She then explains that, allowing half a bag of potting soil for each student, she had to procure a total of 40 bags of soil, which she mixed with peat. Transporting everything to the school when the time came was a Herculean task involving pallets and plastic kiddie pools from the Habitat store.

In addition to her husband, Anna recruited several friends and neighbors to help with the project, which came right on the heels of having spent spring break working on the beautification of Dodgertown Elementary’s butterfly garden.

Mrs. Johnson and Mark Manninen, a friend and neighbor of the Lanams, help with the watering as a youngster watches and learns
Mrs. Johnson and Mark Manninen, a friend and neighbor of the Lanams, help with the watering as a youngster watches and learns.

The first graders enjoyed preparing their little portable gardens, securing the fledgling plants in the bagged potting soil and watering them carefully. It is obvious that Mrs. Johnson had prepared them well; when asked which was her favorite plant, one little girl responds, “The sunflower, because I like the colors, and I also like what the bees do with the pollen.”

Will Anna and Dick Lanam be involved when the time comes to build the raised-bed garden? Mrs. Racine doesn’t hesitate—“Oh, I’m sure.” 

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