The Merriam Webster dictionary defines volunteer, a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service. The LSU AgCenter Area Nutrition agent, Master Gardeners, and Louisiana Tech University students have been part of assisting with three Lincoln Parish school gardens. This learning experience would not be possible without the commitment of these volunteers!
Rozetta Smith, Mark and Hong Cross, Master Gardeners, are volunteers that meet the Lincoln Preparatory school twice a month teaching gardening skills and nutrition lessons. Vondel Stone and Tina Beckel, Dora Ann Hatch, Master Gardeners, volunteered to assist with the Cypress Springs Gardens. Kathy Barr, Patricia Cameron, Dora Ann Hatch, Valeria Graham, and Vondel Stone have dedicated time and shared their expertise with the Choudrant Elementary School Gardens. Dr. Mary Fontenot, Louisiana Tech University, Professor of Human Ecology, networked with the LSU AgCenter to provide field experiences for twenty-two dietetic students in her class.
Volunteers prepared ten school gardens, pulling weeds (with help of the students), tilling and fertilizing, and amending the soil. Volunteers and students planted broccoli, Swiss chard, carrots, radishes, lettuce, kale, collards, turnips and added pine straw around growing plants.
Students learned in the first lesson how to identify garden tools, how to use the tools, garden safety rules, to wear closed toe shoes, take care of the tools, keep them out of the weather, never place tools on the ground with sharp edge up, and how to place and carry tools while working in the garden. Reading a seed package, how deep, planting distance between seeds and watering methods, were learned in lesson two. Lesson three went along with students’ science lessons of the Ecosystem, parts of the plants, and photosynthesis. Students learned the good, the bad, and the ugly of garden bugs in the next lesson. They learned that some bugs are beneficial to their garden. Students went out into their gardens with magnified glasses to identify the bugs they had just learned about. They saw good and bad pests. The next lesson is about garden maintenance.
Not only do the students learn about gardening, they also get to eat vegetables in their gardens. Students learned the nutrition value of kale, how to store it, and how it can be prepared. Students sampled kale from their gardens in a kale and fruit smoothie.
Vondel Stone and Cathy Judd made six “Rainbow Lasagnas” for students to sample Swiss chard from their gardens. The lasagna dishes gave the students an opportunity to try several vegetables, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, as well as tofu which is used in place of ricotta cheese. Many of the students wanted seconds on the Swiss chard Rainbow Lasagna!
Students learned the parts of the plants we eat: stem, root, leaf, flower, the seed and the fruit. They tried a bag of vegetables that represented the parts of the plants we eat; carrots, celery, cabbage, broccoli, and snow peas, with a little ranch dip dressing. Students filled out an evaluation stating what vegetable they had never eaten. Judd said she was surprised how many students had never eaten some of the vegetables in the bag. Reading a recipe, identifying portion sizes, tips on how to keep portions in control, using MyPlate, as a guide for eating healthy at every meal, and keeping active was included in the lessons.
Volunteers keep our garden project going. Judd states, “When the volunteers and I walk into a school it is rewarding to hear the children say in an excited voice, “it’s garden day!” Volunteers, thank you for sharing your time and expertise to teach the Lincoln Parish youth this valuable life skill. If you would like to volunteer your time to assist youth with the school gardens, call Cathy Judd at the LSU AgCenter at 251-5134.