Goessel elementary students are reaping more than crops from USD 411’s school garden.
In addition to cultivating work ethic and developing teamwork skills through project-based learning, Goessel’s little seedlings are beginning to understand their responsibility to the well being of the garden.
“Some students certainly seem to be taking a lot of ownership,” garden coordinator Pam Abrahams said of the students who have been in the program since it started three years ago.
“With all the repetition that goes into gardening, the more experienced ones know what they need to do,” she said. “I think it helps promote healthy choices, too.”
K-5 students visit the garden about once a week where they routinely pull weeds, label plants and rows, and water organic crops.
“We shy away from chemicals because the kids are in the garden so much,” Abrahams said.
However, there is a bit of bug squashing that goes on.
Many students have developed a working knowledge of common weeds and bugs that can cause damage to their crops, as well as bugs like ladybugs, earthworms, and lacewings, known to be helpful.
In the spring, the garden is divided into plots according to classes and crops are chosen.
Abrahams selects the majority of crops, but students are given the chance to vote between some like watermelons or cantaloupes.
With a degree in elementary education, Abrahams also has 10 years of gardening experience.
She said timing in the garden is important to keep student interest level up throughout the year.
“We plant perennials like strawberries, blackberries, and asparagus,” she said. “I like to plant things like lettuce and spinach that come up fast. Melons and sweet potatoes grow all summer.”
Students learn about “food miles” and how it can be better for the environment to eat food that is grown locally.
She mixes in information about soil composition and plant parts while students work. She also used “How Groundhog’s Garden Grew,” a children’s book by Lynne Cherry to teach the sequence of crop growth.
She said students enjoyed a “pizza plant” activity where they learned pizza sauce and the pizza crust among other ingredients ultimately come from crops.
Students also have to learn to be patient to harvest crops when they are ripe.
“Harvest is easily the most exciting time,” Abrahams said. “The kids always ask me when their crops will be ready.”
Some of students’ anticipation was released early this week when they harvested 126 pounds of sweet potatoes, 83 pounds of watermelon, and several bushels of cucumbers and green peppers.
Much of what students reap is incorporated into elementary lunches throughout the year. In the summer, some of it goes to parents who help with the garden, and some is donated to Tabor’s Food Pantry.
The garden is sustained through donations and support from community members.
Superintendent John Fast said that a cadre of parents are scheduled to visit the school cafeteria to help prepare their children’s recent harvest.