Johnny Morgan, Brashier, Miles J., Fontenot, Kathryn
BATON ROUGE, La. – Children from all regions of Louisiana are learning about science, math and other subjects while watching their food grow in school gardens, according to LSU AgCenter county agent Miles Brashier, of Pointe Coupee Parish.
In schools with gardens, students are learning in an alternative way and tasting vegetables they may not have tried otherwise.
Brashier has six school gardens that range from elementary to high school in his parish. And they are growing what he calls “quick turnover crops.”
“At any given time we’re growing a variety of crops. It just depends on the time of the year,” he said. “In the fall, we do all the cole crops, which include Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, turnips and broccoli.”
In the spring, the schools plant crops that will be ready to harvest before school is out, Brashier said. “These crops include squash, snap beans, onions, cabbage and a few strawberries.”
The students are getting more than a lesson in how to grow their own food. In addition, they are learning measurement skills, and they write journal articles about what they learn in the garden, Brashier said.
“They take growth measurements, and they can come up with charts and diagrams. And they figure ratios where they look at the amounts of fertilizer they apply to a plant to measure how fast it grows,” he said.
The gardens are basically organic because the plants don’t receive any of the insecticides or stronger chemicals normally used in a garden, he said. “We have used a little Roundup herbicide just to kill off weeds.”
“There’s the safety factor, but we also have enough hands to pull all the bugs and weeds we need to from the garden,” Brashier said. “We do occasionally use some mild insecticidal soap that coats the insect and kills it.”
Three of the schools have what could be called “high tech” gardens because teachers have whiteboards they can take outside to teach their lessons.
“The teacher can take the same technology they have in the classroom and go out in the garden and take pictures and take measurements and do some calculations,” he said. “The teacher can basically do the same thing in the garden that is done in the classroom.”
LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot, who coordinates the school gardens across the state, said school gardens are popular in every region.
“I talk to our agents all the time, and they are constantly getting requests from schools for help in starting a garden,” she said.
The schools have to provide the materials for creating the garden, but oftentimes the agents will help them identify sources of funds and provide information to help them successfully begin a school gardening program, she said.
“We have information on our website to help the teachers with their gardens,” Fontenot said. “We also have teachers come out to our model school garden at Burden Center where we provide them hands-on lessons.”
Fontenot said the lessons are set at the fourth-grade level. In the fall the students can do a math or geography lesson, and in the spring it’s butterfly lessons.
“I also send out a quarterly newsletter to the teachers called Veggie Bytes,” Fontenot said. “This electronic newsletter is provided to help them learn more about the natural world around them with their school garden.”
Even three- and four-year olds have become interested in growing food. They say they like the work because of the payoff.
Renee Smith, a teacher’s assistant/childcare provider at St. Aloysius Catholic School, said the children are involved in all the gardening activities from planting to harvest.
“The children really enjoy picking the vegetables because they know the ladies in the kitchen are looking for new recipes all the time to prepare from what’s picked out of the garden,” Smith said.
Smith said it’s always a little easier to get the children to try new vegetables when they’ve had a hand in growing them.
“They are just excited about ‘our’ garden. Even when they get here in the morning, they are looking to see what’s new,” Reed said. “Sometimes they see new flowers, or maybe there are some new little tomatoes.”
Smith said in addition to the fun and food, there’s also an educational component even at this young age.
“Recently they’ve been making plant stakes with the vegetable name, which is helping them to learn their letters, Reed said.Johnny Morgan