2/20/2011

Jonesboro, AR Kids Garden

Those of you who have known me for any period of time will likely remember how excited I get when I hear about garden projects for schools. Several will remember, too, that I attended the very first Slow Foods conference in Turin, Italy, in 2005 and how pumped up I was for the entire slow foods, local foods movement, and remain so today. Food safety, including knowing what pesticides and chemicals we are putting into our bodies, is important. So is seeing that the money we spend on food goes to our neighbors and local community instead of to some giant corporation elsewhere. Add that to the fact that what you grow tastes better, costs less, and is better for you, then the local foods, school gardens projects make really good sense.
Outdoor demonstration area with part of the second garden in background
A couple of months back Melinda Smith from the Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies Magnet School, in Jonesboro, Arkansas contacted me, asking for suggestions about adding an herb garden to their school garden project. I was pleased to be asked and have more ideas than good sense.
Photos on the wall of last year's produce.
 I admit I was startled to find a school in Arkansas with a kids garden project. I love Arkansas, it's one of the best kept secrets in America (if everyone knew how beautiful the state is, there would be a lot more people and it would lose its attraction). But anyone who knows Arkansas, also knows it is not on the cutting edge of much of anything, especially not forward-thinking school projects devoted to health and wellness.
You can see the 10 raised beds (surrounded with awful Bermuda grass) and the little greenhouse in the background.
I had visited an amazing school garden project last summer in Dallas, and posted about it here. And I posted about the amazing Waldorf School outside Chicago this past fall. I've posted in past years about the kids garden projects in San Antonio and Philadelphia, too. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a school in eastern Arkansas with the foresight and creativity to be teaching kids about where their food comes from. I had to go see this school project!
That's Melinda Smith, Coordinator of the project, in the wonderful teaching kitchen.
Melinda Smith is the coordinator of the project, and she's one of those people who will not take no for an answer. Even when confronted with "that's impossible" she forges ahead and gathers people around her who can see a project move forward. She's received all of the questions about the project one might hear in any rural area, things like, "What's wrong with pizza and tater tots for school lunch?" "Why do kids need to learn to grow their own food?" and "Aren't there more important lessons than food?"
This is the trellis bed in the second garden area. The children grew vine plants last season.
Fortunately Melinda has a group of interested fellow-teachers who are dedicated to teaching children about health and wellness and realizing the food they eat has a profound bearing on every other aspect of their lives, including how they learn, how they grow and what they become.
This is part of the second courtyard, trellis garden in background. There are a few raised beds and lots and lots of Bermuda.
In an age when a high percentage of the population is overweight, and with a generation of people who think cooking from scratch involves opening a package for the microwave, the Health and Wellness Magnate School is a breath of fresh air.
One garden has chickens. The kids learn about where eggs come from and how to care for animals.
In only 2 short years, this unique Jonesboro school has generated enough grants to pay for several raised beds, a very small greenhouse and some seed, in previous years. They've used up the money and have spent it well. In spite of having to deal with an enclosed courtyard that is infested with the deadly Bermuda grass (deadly because it is so tenacious it comes up through plastic or paving - I've even seen it find its way through asphalt!) the kids held their first plant sale last year with plants they'd grown in the greenhouse. They produced vegetables and greens which they used in the impressive teaching kitchen lab.
Two homeless rabbits were given to the school and they are at home in one of the courtyards. Remember how Peter Rabbit's mother gave him chamomile tea when Peter ate too many carrots from father McGreggor's garden? These rabbits are well behaved and the children love them.
Renee Shepherd selects some of the best performing herbs and vegetables anywhere.
This year, the teachers want to move this garden ahead. Our friend, Renee Shepherd of Renees Garden has generously donated lots of seed for their beds and greenhouse. (If you don't know Renees' Seed, check out the link; she has some of the best mixtures of seeds, always outstanding performers in our gardens here). Our friends, Olee and Sharon Jobe at Spring Fever Greenhouse have donated several bags of potting soil and pots for the greenhouse.
One of the courtyards (there are 2) includes a raised bed with bulbs and roses.

The garden has its own blog where the teachers and kids post photos and updates on their garden. I urge you to go check it out, and sign up to Follow. (It's free, you don't have to do anything, just receive a note when they post new information, it's a great way to show your support). This is a project that has had a lot of "no" answers when they've asked for help. Many in their local community have been less than sympathetic or encouraging, so sign up as a follower and let them know you support what they are doing. I'll be posting more soon, but I wanted you to know about this really great garden project for kids.
Both the kids and the teachers made little flags with quotations they like, to decorate the outdoor demonstration area.
Keep in mind all these photos were taken in January but you can see the basics and by spring, this is going to be a beautiful garden again.
Happy gardening!

9 comments:

Carol said...

What an exciting school! It's amazing that it is located in Arkansas.

Karen O'Brien said...

That garden is truly amazing - it's great to know that there are tenacious teachers who will strive to give kids what they really need - lessons on life. Wish I lived closer!

Sharon Lovejoy said...

OH WOWOWOWOWOW Jim,

Great posting about what Melinda and helpers have accomplished. We need to clone her and get this going throughout our country.

I know that teachers are so overworked as it is so it is amazing that she is able to shoulder this too.

A big round of applause for this wonderful Arkansas accomplishment...a true model for everyone.

Hurrah!

Sharon

Lisa Marini Finerty said...

Inspiring and a model program. Looking forward to seeing more. Thanks for sharing.

FushigiFox said...

this is amazing! I really look forward to following their blog. Their garden reminds me of my son's kindergarten which grows seasonal foods and has chickens and goats. I really like how some schools are focusing on this because it is very important to know where our food comes from and what goes into our bodies. I know my son enjoys all the edible trees and plants at his school. It is a great learning opportunity for kids. Not only do they learn eating healthy but they can also put what they learn from others studies into the gardening experiencing. One idea that I found interesting at my son's school, is the kindergarten took old baby baths and showed the kids how to plant rice. There is also more satisfaction for the kids to enjoy eating what they grew themselves. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

-Vangie

Rhonda said...

I love that they are doing this! What a great start for kids in learning where their food really comes from. Thanks so much for sharing the post- I'm passing it along.

Dianne said...

Great story covering the school gardens! It's a project near and dear to my heart and one I'm working to share with more schools. Our kids LOVE the opportunity and they learn so much about life and the food they eat.

In fact, my current blog post is on this very subject!

Nick at the Kids Garden Blog in the UK said...

What a fantastic idea. Full of enthusiasm and your love for the subject really comes through. Get kids gardening early on and watch their enthusiasm and interest grow.

Mike Taylor said...

Jim,
Thanks for mentioning Renee's Garden seeds - she donated seeds that allowed us to kick-start our first community garden and my granddaughters' school garden.
It is fun to watch kids plant and grow their first veggies, and it is just as much so to teach adults the joys of gardening too!
Thanks Renee!