New crop of veggie lovers sprouting thanks to school garden

Collards, kale, Swiss chard are among the winter vegetables growing in the garden at Stoneview Elementary School. Photo by Gale Horton Gay

Collards, kale, Swiss chard are among the winter vegetables growing in the garden at Stoneview Elementary School. Photo by Gale Horton Gay

 

Eight-year-old Jackie Lozoya used to hate cabbage. Now she likes it.

Dadrianna White, 10, wasn’t a fan of cauliflower, but put it on her plate today and she’ll gobble it up.

Jamir Grady, 9, recently gave two thumbs up to a blueberry/collard smoothie that he tasted for the first time.

Lozoya, White and Grady are three fourth graders who have had a change of heart about fruits and vegetables thanks to the garden at Stoneview Elementary School in Lithonia.

Located in the school’s courtyard, the garden has been brimming with winter vegetables: collards, cabbage, Swiss chard, carrots, Brussel sprouts and kale. Other times of the year, corn, watermelon, tomatoes, squash and peppers emerge from the ground there. The garden is cared for primarily by five fourth-grade classes, about 140 students, along with teachers and other support staff.

They also have an indoor “tower garden,” which requires only water and light, and is housed in a corner of the stage in the cafetorium. Sweet basil, cilantro and winter thyme are among the herbs growing in the tower.

Teachers use the indoor and outdoor gardens as tools and incorporate math, science, reading and social studies lessons into the gardening experience. During classroom time, teachers frequently pull examples from the garden to drive home curriculum concepts.

Teacher Patrice Jones, co-sponsor of the garden, said her students recently harvested bok choy and math principles were used to determine how to cut it. 

“They never heard of it, never saw it, but they grew it from seed and harvested it,” said Jones, adding that they cooked it in a crock pot and everyone was offered a serving.

“They wanted seconds,” she said.

Asked what’s the biggest benefit to have a garden on school grounds, Jones said it was introducing students to vegetables and learning how they grow, which encourages them to eat more vegetables.

The students spend about an hour to two hours a week outside doing such things are planting, watering, pulling weeds and harvesting. Some of the veggies the students wash and make into a salad, which they eat in class, according to teacher and garden cosponsor Ruth Small. Others are turned over to cafeteria staff, are cooked up and served to the fourth-grade students. 

The concept of farm to table is personal here, one teacher pointed out.

“They know where it came from,” she said. “That’s their work.”

Several Stoneview teachers and Principal Ledra Jemison agree that the students so enjoy spending time in tending to the plants that it’s often used as a discipline tool with the threat that gardening time will be cut if behavior doesn’t improve.

Jemison said the freedom of being outdoors, being away from the usual classroom rules is an environment in which many children thrive.

“This is the place where they really learn to make good choices,” said Jemison. 

According to the principal, the garden provides lessons such as delayed reward, working for a common cause and watching something grow. In January, the students helped plant several fruit trees in the garden and some students said that they will return to the school in a few years when they hope to see those trees bearing fruit, Jemison said.

She added that often the students are more courteous to one another and more inquisitive when they are laboring among the collards and the Swiss chard.

According to Small, the garden was started three years ago with two plots and $100. She immediately noticed that the behavior of many of the boys improved when they were outside working in the dirt. Now there are 12 plots. Improved behavior continues to be an additional benefit, Small said, noting that there’s been a decrease in the number of disciplinary referrals among the fourth-grade students.

“They want to go to care for the garden,” she said. “I think that made an impact on them. They are well behaved so they can participate.”

Both Small and Jones hope to see the garden expanded in the future to the point at which students can take vegetables home. The pair are seeking sponsors who can provide donations of time and money to help them grow.

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