The end of the school year is on the horizon and school gardens are flourishing. Many of the vegetables that students planted earlier in the spring are now ready for harvest. As kids eat the kale, carrots, and chard they grew, they’re also nurturing new skills.
In honor of this abundant time of year, we’re taking a look back to a time when school gardens were a relatively new concept. Just like now, teachers and gardeners were leaders in the farm to school movement. Those early instructors have a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective on how farm to school activities impact children and the community.
Suzanne Wodek is a master gardener volunteer in Buncombe County. As a master gardener volunteer, Suzanne shares her knowledge of plants that grow in North Carolina and helps people troubleshoot their garden questions. The goal is to empower residents to cultivate healthy gardens and that philosophy extends to children, too.
In 2002, Emma Elementary School contacted the master gardener program to ask if someone from the organization could help establish a school garden. Suzanne was eager to help and has worked with many students in the school’s garden since then. But she says there was something missing during the early years of the program—encouraging kids to eat the vegetables they grew.
Now the students have a veggie party at the end of the school ear. “We go out, we harvest the lettuce and radishes, bring that in,” Suzanne explains. “They get a little ranch dressing from the cafeteria and we have a salad party!” The students at Emma Elementary also receive ASAP’s Growing Minds materials as part of the school garden program. Suzanne passes out stickers that say “I tried local lettuce” and gives students recipe cards to take home.
In addition to helping kids embrace healthy foods, school gardens can also get kids excited about other subjects at school. Suzanne sometimes works with a fifth grade teacher named Janet Miller who uses the garden to reinforce lessons like reading and writing. She partners fifth grade students with first grade reading buddies, then the pairs go out into the garden to read together. Their garden is now a place where students can be good role models for younger kids and practice reading and writing together—connecting the garden with the classroom.
Suzanne says unexpected learning opportunities pop up in the garden all the time. “You’ll be standing there and a kid will ask you a question that you didn’t expect,” she says. “You didn’t expect to have a teachable moment, but a kid asks a question and there you have it.”
When Suzanne looks back on working with kids in school gardens, she says she’s noticed some changes over the years. “We’ve come so far. The teachers have realized that this is a learning situation that’s so easy and so great,” she says. “You get the kids out into nature get them away from all the electronics and the kids get excited when they come out.”
Even if a child doesn’t have access to a school garden, there are plenty of activities that any kid can do this spring and summer, like observing the gardens and plants in their own neighborhood. “Go out and see things from week to week to see the changes,” Suzanne recommends. “I like to point that out to them—what do you notice this week that you didn’t notice last week? And see how it progresses. It’s magic; gardening is magic.”
Find farm to school activities for a range of ages on ASAP’s Growing Minds website. There are lesson plans, book suggestions, local food recipes, and a resource called This Week in the Garden for every week of the school year.
Teachers who are interested in incorporating a school garden or other farm to school activities in their lesson plans can contact ASAP for the free stickers and recipe cards that Suzanne Wodek mentioned.
Learn more about how to encourage children to learn about local food, gardens, and farms at www.growing-minds.org
Aired: April 29, 2019