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Friday, December 17, 2010

School Gardens

This year I’ve enjoyed opportunities for visiting school garden projects in other states. I’ve been impressed at the creativity and insight some of the schools have demonstrated. One in particular stands out of those I’ve toured recently.

Stonewall Jackson Elementary in Dallas has a 20,000 sq. ft. science lab, which includes vegetable and herb gardens, a large (and impressive) compost area, greenhouse, small chicken house, nature area and 35 class rows for food and fiber crops. All students plant vegetables, harvest, study insect populations, prepare the soil and compost and learn how to make landscape plans. The school takes a hands-on approach to teaching their students about science, as well as math, art and writing through the garden project. Imagine, in the middle of Dallas, students are learning where their food comes from and how it’s grown. (What these students grow, also ends up in the cafeteria, where the students can take pride in knowing they have a vested interest in the flavor and quality of their daily lunches).

This is just a portion of the compost area. The "crowd" is a busload of Garden Writers of America members.

Contrast that with schools that teach only reading, math and sports. My own grandson, when he was here for a visit at age 7, helped “pick” eggs from the hen house. But the look on his face when his mother broke one of the eggs into a skillet, showed he had no idea that chickens produced that flattened, fried thing he had for breakfast every day.

I visited a school in Cincinnati where students have plots of ground at the Cincinnati Botanic Garden. They work in teams of 8 students per 10 x 15 ft. plot. Each team is responsible for amending and tilling the soil, making a budget, planning and planting, tending and harvesting. A chef from a local restaurant set up a project for the garden that teaches the students about turning their produce into salsa, made in the commercial kitchen on the grounds of the Botanic Garden. The salsa is then offered for sale through the Garden’s gift shop. Those students learn not only how to grow and prepare the produce, but also how to calculate production costs, advertising, food safety, how to run a business as well as how to work responsibly in a team.

Students at Stonewall learn about planting seed and caring for them before transplant.

I see this as an encouraging trend in school curricula. As more and more schools look at connecting their students with real food (I don’t consider ‘tater nuggets and a hunk of breaded, frozen then deep-fried nameless meat patty to be “real” food for children’s brains) I believe children will have healthier meals and a deep respect for the food they eat. Call me old fashioned, but I believe children learn valuable life lessons about respect, food and life in general by working with plants and soil.

You can just barely see it, but the chicken house and laying nests are just beyond the tree in the foreground.
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