How do their gardens grow?
Watauga County students have received a lesson in Mother Nature's classroom this fall.
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service assisted with garden programs at three schools, helping students plant and care for vegetables and then sharing in the harvest.
Margie Mansure, a nutritionist with the extension service, said the opportunity grew out of funds remaining from last year's childhood obesity-prevention project in which she took fresh local produce into classrooms, showed how to prepare it and then had students try different vegetables.
Because school was out for the summer, the participating classrooms in the three schools--Bethel and Mabel elementary schools and Two Rivers Community School--focused on short-season, cool-weather crops when school started in August.
"We had a little bit of money left over for that project and decided to put it to good use and put it to fall gardens," Mansure said.
"It was pretty cool to see how much grew."
Because the project was new, there was no single guiding curriculum behind it, though Mansure said teachers used different ways to tie the garden into other subjects. Some classes studied beneficial insects in the garden as part of a science lesson or charted the most popular vegetables.
"We harvested mustard greens, collards, lettuce, and a gourmet salad mix," Mansure said. Bethel had six gardens and Mabel had two gardens, and Two Rivers had one classroom garden through the project. Mansure was at Bethel Friday helping students harvest and prepare the food, taking the opportunity to share nutritional information. Some students took their first taste of certain vegetables as part of the project, though the mustard greens appeared too "hot" for many children's budding taste buds.
"I really applaud when they (students) try new things like that," Mansure said. "What I like to see the most is to try something they've never tried before and they actually like it. They are more likely to try it if they are with their peers. I think it's a good way to remember some of the nutrition pieces that I teach. We talk about how vegetables are good for your bones, because they have calcium and vitamin K."
Classes were responsible for weeding and watering their garden. "Some of the classes did and some of the classes didn't," Mansure said. "Some of them could see it outside their classroom and that was helpful. The rain helped us and things went pretty well."
Children also rated the vegetables as they tried them, and leftover food went to the families. Broccoli, beets and turnip greens were also on the garden menu, and flowers were planted to attract beneficial insects and provide decoration.
Mansure said she is pursuing grants and other sources of funding to continue the program next year. Mansure is planning a workshop next summer to help teachers develop ways to tie the gardens into other classroom instructions.
"I'd like to open it up to other schools," Mansure said. "I think the teachers have to be interested in doing it and getting more master gardener volunteers and parents involved is important."
The Childhood Obesity Prevention Demonstration Project provided curriculum, equipment, tools, soil amendments seeds and plants, as well as technical support, nutrition lessons and cooking classes.