BATON ROUGE, La. – Teachers interested in starting gardens at their schools this year attended a daylong workshop at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on July 9 to gain a basic knowledge and the equipment needed for success.
LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot said she’s constantly getting calls and emails from schools wanting to start a school garden, so she decided that a yearly workshop was needed to get the teachers prepared.
“We went to four corporations in the area to generate the needed funds to conduct the training and to provide the tools that the schools will need to be successful,” Fontenot said.
This year the sponsors were the Pennington Family Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, East Iberville School Group and the Albemarle Foundation.
“This year, we have four schools from East Baton Rouge Parish, two schools from Iberville, two from New Orleans, two from West Feliciana and one school from Jeff Davis,” Fontenot said.
The corporate sponsors provided $1,000 for each school to purchase supplies, $100 stipends for the teachers to attend the workshop and $50 to cover the LSU AgCenter agents' travel to the workshop.
“We wanted to give them everything they would need to get it built and maintain it for the next year and a half,” Fontenot said.
Jason Bitting, adviser of mechanical tech services with Albemarle and the Albemarle Foundation, said his company is involved because they like supporting the community.
Bitting said this is the first time Albemarle has been involved with the AgCenter’s school garden program, but they have worked with the American Heart Association with their Healthy Heart Garden at Children’s Charter Academy.
“We’re really excited about the different aspects of this program, such as the health, science, technology and engineering,” he said. “We see an opportunity to educate young children on the benefits of being healthy and also provide that encouragement for the students to continue that lifestyle even beyond school as they go home with their families.”
Fontenot said the sponsors will visit the schools and evaluate their gardens in November, then next July the teachers will come back for a half-day workshop to learn how to continue the gardens without the financial backing of the LSU AgCenter.
“The following November, we will go back to evaluate their gardens one more time,” she said. “At that time, we will give them a garden trophy and congratulate them on being an excelled school gardener.”
Fontenot said she hopes to receive corporate sponsorship again next year in order to rotate in another group of teachers to begin their school gardens.
Felicia Baptiste, a kindergarten teacher at Alice M. Hart Charter School in New Orleans, said she came to the workshop to get a better understanding of how to develop a school garden, and she will take the information back to implement in the new school that they will soon be moving into.
“I also will be working with the K-club at our school, which is going to be first- through sixth-graders, and they will actually be the ones who will be in charge of the garden,” she said.
Baptiste said she wants to plant things that the students really like to eat, like cucumbers and tomatoes, but she also wants to expose them to some things they may not be as familiar with, like zucchini.
“I think they will get excited about just watching something grow that they planted,” she said.
Stephanie Elwood, an extension associate with the Southern University Ag Center, said she is partnering with Fontenot to develop more school gardens in Baton Rouge.
“I am working with Scotlandville High School, Scotlandville Middle and Southern Lab School now on a USDA grant called Eradicating Food Deserts through School Gardens,” she said. “We’re also working with a school called Thrive that targets at-risk youth, helping them with their garden.”
Each teacher left the workshop with materials for three raised beds, 12 to 15 varieties of seed, three soaker hoses, a timer, pruners, shovels, hose, 10 hand trowels, watering cans, potting soil to start their seedlings, trays for the seedlings, labels and markers, fire ant insecticide, a little herbicide to burn down the grass initially, fertilizer and two curriculum books plus the workshop binder and other supplies. Johnny Morgan
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