School gardens serve as outdoor, indoor classrooms

Tobie Blanchard, Guarino, Annrose M.  |  1/4/2011 1:10:03 AM

News Release Distributed 07/19/10

School gardens are fast becoming a core element of Louisiana children’s school education. In some schools, gardens are being integrated into the curriculum to teach children about plants, nature and the outdoors. Gardens also can be used to teach children about history, economics, poetry, math, science and social studies.

An LSU AgCenter nutritionist said school gardens can make hands-on learning, environmental stewardship and the experience of growing and eating home-grown food become part of a child’s education.

“A school garden contributes to growing healthy food, bodies and minds,” said Annrose Guarino, a leader in garden-based nutrition education.

Guarino said research shows most people feel better when they are surrounded by greenery – working in a garden or being in nature.

“It seems that plants affect people in a positive way,” Guarino said, adding that gardening also can produce physical benefits and create a positive relationship with nutrition.

School gardens are growing in popularity across Louisiana according to the nutritionist. Schools are growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and flowers.

Students from pre-kindergarten through high school can participate in school gardening projects.

“Teachers and parents have a great opportunity to enrich the educational experience with hands-on learning – teach what we grow, eat what we grow, learn what we grow,” Guarino explained.

Interest in school gardens is refocusing education philosophy on an activity that engages children in learning. The smell of vegetables, bright colors and soil texture all appeal to youth.

Garden-based nutrition education affects children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, Guarino said. She added that young people are more likely to appreciate and eat what they raise themselves.

The LSU AgCenter’s Family Nutrition Program, its 4-H Youth Development efforts and its Master Gardeners collaborate on school gardens. Guarino said these projects foster group ownership and improve social skills. Parents can get involved by trying new recipes, being role models by tasting new foods and even setting up their own small container or backyard gardens at home.

For limited-resource households, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP – the food stamp program – allows the Louisiana Purchase electronic benefit or purchase card to be used for seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.

Guarino offered guidelines for starting a school garden:

– Form a planning team. The best way to initiate a school garden is to have a garden planning team with a specific purpose and educational goals. Are the principal and parents in favor of a garden? Their support is important. Also, what age students do you want to involve in the project?

– Pick one or more seasons. Summers are hot and may lack participants. Fall and spring gardens are alternative or additional possibilities. Consider a year-round garden.

– Determine costs and site selection. Get parents involved with sod removal, soil preparation and site construction. You must have a space that receives six to eight hours of sunlight per day. Water should be available nearby, as well.

– Involve students with planting. Make a duty list of which students will be doing what and when these tasks should take place. Post the jobs on an assignment board.

– Find easy-to-use tools and plenty of volunteers to assist students with the garden. The social interaction helps make weeding fun. Once the garden is growing, take a moment to think about what is going well and what needs to be changed. You may want to survey the teachers, parents or students.

– When it’s time for harvest, decide where the food will go – to the students, the food bank, a food pantry, soup kitchen or some combination of recipients.

Guarino recommended consulting with the parish LSU AgCenter office for information on soil conditions, drainage, plant selections, garden design and other gardening-related issues. The AgCenter also has a variety of publications available at www.lsuagcenter.com

Tobie Blanchard

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