Children learn from gardens

Published 12:29 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

SELMA — Second-and third-graders poured out of classrooms at Edgewood Elementary Wednesday afternoon, but not for recess. Instead, a patch behind the school rowed with plastic on top of little hills became a laboratory.

One could call it a living laboratory.

At least that’s what teachers, students and others hope. The children are doing what Voltaire recommended to all, “Tend your own garden.”

This is no simple project. These elementary students use the same kind of farming that became popular more than 40 years ago in Israel, where drip irrigation to conserve precious water became the standard.

George Paris of the state Department of Agriculture helped oversee the planting. Edgewood Elementary’s garden had its genesis in a meeting between Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and state Rep. Yusuf Salaam. The two raised concerns about juvenile diabetes and children’s diets.

Paris said the commissioner told Salaam he would try to find money to put gardens in various schools to teach children about good food.

“We’ve been doing them, oh goodness, for a while,” Paris said.

Adult workers rolled a wheel across the plastic that stuck holes in the material and the earth. Children lined up at a flat-bed trailer and scooped up flats of collards and carried them to the garden. Some ruffled their noses at the smell of natural fertilizer as it wafted up toward them.

Joe Peterson, principal of Edgewood, helped parents and teachers herd the children toward the patch.

The program began at Knox Elementary two years ago, Peterson said. But Knox’s students were about ready to let it go.

“We didn’t want to see the project leave town,” he said.

Once the greens are mature, students will harvest them and take them to the cafeteria, where they’ll enjoy the fruits of the harvest, the principal said.

Columbus Mitchell, one of the parent volunteers, said he is glad his children have a different experience this fall.

“They actually see it being planted and being raised, and from what I see, they’ll actually harvest it,” Mitchell said. “This is good for them.”

While the adults understood the meaning of the day’s activities, at least one student, Carla Carter, wasn’t so sure about the dirt, the dampness from the irrigation and the hoopla.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said as she held her flat of collards ready for the planting.