Did you know that Louisiana schools are growing? That is, they’re growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and flowers. School gardens are growing in popularity across the state.
School gardening projects provide a great opportunity for learning about science, math, English, nature, nutrition, food safety, health, art and physical activity, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Annrose Guarino, a leader in garden-based nutrition education.
Students from pre-K through high school learn about plants, environmental studies, the outdoors and how food is grown. Gardening lessons are available to assist teachers with starting a school garden and including it as an educational experience.
“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 explains.
Interest in school gardens is refocusing education philosophy on an activity that engages children in learning. The smell of the vegetables, the bright colors and the soil texture all appeal to the youth.
Garden-based nutrition education affects children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, Guarino says, explaining, 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 Master Gardeners collaborate on school gardens. 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 Food Stamp program allows the electronic benefit or purchase card to be used for seed or seedling purchases.
Guarino offers 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. Is the principal and are the 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 the plantings. 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 recommends consulting with your parish LSU AgCenter extension office for information on soil conditions, drainage, plant selections, garden design and so forth. The AgCenter also has a variety of publications, Web sites and experts available to help you.
Editor: Mark Claesgens