Gardening projects in schools
January 17, 2016
By Pat Koenig/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTOS CONTRIBUTED BY BRENDA BRANTON
Meyersville School students, from left, Dally Finch, Cole Ohrt, Seth Davis, Marlee Blain, Cash Kirbo and Seth Haun work to prepare a garden as part of the "Farm to Table" concept last year at their school. They planned, built, planted and harvested a spring and fall garden in addition to cooking, consuming and preserving/canning its bounty.
During the Meyersville gardening project, a guest teacher, far right, visited the school to observe vegetables grown in the United States as compared to those in his native South Africa. Shown with him are Meyersville students, from left, Marlee Blain, Seth Davis, Denise Serrano, Madison Cornet, Montserrat Perez, Arianna Sierra and Seth Haun.
The Meyersville School "Farm to Table" garden was designed by students with vegetable plants in the center and blooming pollinator-attracting plants in the outside cinder blocks. Students and their families enjoyed fresh mint, green beans, carrots, squash, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden.
I love being a member of the Master Gardeners in Victoria County.
Favorite activity is teaching children
In training to become a certified Texas Master Gardener, we are taught by experts in their fields and often by professors that are tops in their chosen specialties at Texas A&M University. We learn the correct planting, care and harvesting of vegetables and fruits. Among various other things, we learn the latest varieties of Texas Superstars and their care.
We as Master Gardeners are required to give of our time in community service. My favorite activity is to teach children about plants, gardening and bugs.
Gardening in schools
Several years ago, I had the privilege of teaching 125 children in the Cuero School District about gardening. We had children, kindergarten through fifth grade, divided into groups of 25. They were to leave the class with a garden they had planted in a pot. The children planted seeds, rooted plants and plant cuttings.
Children today have a limited opportunity to see fruits and vegetables growing.
I bought a bag of potatoes and cut the potatoes into chunks. Each chunk had two eyes the children could plant. They walked into the room and picked up the potato chunk and asked what it was. I asked them what it looked like, and the answers I received were surprising - almost alarming.
The kids thought it was an apple or tomato. I told them to smell it; they responded that it smelled like dirt. Finally one lad said, "french fries." Out of 125 kids, only 10 recognized it was a potato.
I passed around ripe peaches that I had picked from my tree, and they didn't know what fruit it was. They recognized a peach cup but not the actual fruit.
I asked the children how many had a garden, and the same 10 kids raised their hands. I said, "Oh, so you and your parents have a garden." They said, "No, me and my grandparents have a garden." And these children are our future food source.
'Learn, Grow, Eat & Go!' curriculum
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has also identified this reality. It has worked with educators as well as horticulture and health care professionals to develop a ten-week curriculum called "Learn, Grow, Eat & Go!" It was created specifically by teachers for teachers.
The curriculum's 10 concepts of instruction are designed with a focus on skills delivered with depth and clarity. The curriculum emphasizes science, math, language arts, reading, writing, social studies, physical education, health, horticulture, and nutrition - all with a solid correlation to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.
Teachers are pressed to teach TEKS to pass state requirements. The program developed 99 TEKS of the Texas Board of Education requirements.
'Walk Across Texas' program
The program also implements the "Walk Across Texas" program for students. It starts with teaching factors to consider when selecting a garden site - a sunny area close to water and with workable soil.
Children then decide which vegetables and fruits to plant at what time of the year. The kids work the soil, plant and water. Next, the students harvest the produce, cook it and eat it. When students are invested in the process they are eager to taste. Students become very excited to share their new knowledge with parents and siblings.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service along with Master Gardeners are working together to start "Gardens in Schools Across Texas."
Meyersville I.S.D. gardening project
Meyersville School is an amazing place where great minds grow. It has a successful gardening program led by science teacher Brenda Branton.
Meyersville experienced the concept of "Farm to Table" in a hands-on series of science lessons that incorporated reading, math and social studies curriculum.
Pre-K through eighth-graders built, planted and harvested a spring and fall garden in 2015. Fresh mint, green beans, carrots, squash, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers were enjoyed by students and families. Flowers were planted around the perimeter in the cinderblocks to attract pollinators.
Students applied the concepts of gardening while enjoying the learning experience and bounty of their harvest. As vegetables were picked by the children, they took them into them to the science lab to participate in a cooking demonstration that was followed by consuming their lesson.
Seventh- and eighth-graders were able to learn the art of preserving vegetables by canning bread and butter pickles. They also canned dill pickles. Each child took a one half pint jar of pickles home and was able to share additional jars for gifts as well.
As an aside, the Meyersville School was also visited by a teacher from South Africa. It was amazing that as he was shown the garden, all learned that South Africans grow many of the same vegetables we do. It's a small world, especially in the essentials of growing food.
This program provides a real life experience for an entire school district, the students of which will grow into gardeners. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Master Gardeners are working diligently together to help insure the essentials of growing food through such programs in Texas schools.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at .VictoriaAdvocate.com.
Concepts related to gardening skills
• Math - Determining garden size and layout
• Science - Working with soil, plants, and pests
• Art - Decorating containers with plant and fruit designs
• Physical education - Digging, leveling and planting
• "Kicker Sprinkler"
• "Picking Fruit"
• "Butterfly Flying Around the Garden"