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First-grade students Frank Avalos, Ximena Franco-Martinez and Rodqueze Austin show off last year’s harvest at Alta Vista Elementary’s organic garden.
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012 5 years ago

How does your garden grow?

by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

Although Southside Elementary has maintained an organic garden for three years, volunteer garden Co-Chairwoman Natalie Tanner was overwhelmed with emotion when she heard that the school had earned the Whole Kids Foundation school garden grant for which she had applied.

“I felt like I had won the lottery,” says Tanner. “I was amazed, and I still am. I’m very grateful.”

Keeping in line with the growing trend of school vegetable gardens, Southside wasn’t the only local school to receive the grant.

The $2,000 grants, which are sponsored by a partnership between Whole Foods and nonprofit organization FoodCorps, were awarded to Southside, Alta Vista, Wilkinson and Gulf Gate elementary schools just before the start of the school year. The grants will fund student-run organic gardens and are intended to promote hands-on learning, environmental awareness and healthy eating habits.

Tanner says the grant for the Southside garden will allow the school to spend more money on equipment to help expand the three-year-old garden so it can continue to be used as a learning tool for the students.

“Everything is an opportunity for a lesson,” she says. “(The gardens) provide an opportunity to teach everything from language to math and art; the possibilities are endless.”

Even when things don’t go according to plan, Tanner says there’s always a lesson to be learned. For example, when Southside’s bean plants were plagued with aphids, she and the students discovered that ladybugs could naturally take care of the problem.

Barbara Shirley, principal of Alsta Vista Elementary, says the school’s organic garden is also in its third year, and that she decided to apply for the grant to expand and enhance the garden, which she says began as a simple collection of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

As the garden continued to grow, Shirley says she’s noticed its increasing influence on the students’ lives and eating habits.

“We have very few kids bringing chips or junk food into school anymore,” says Shirley. “They’re trying things they’ve never tried before. Some students took plants home, and they’re so excited to tell me about (the growth) when they come back. You can really see how the benefits extend beyond the school.”

The students of Alta Vista and Southside will use the gardens to plant a variety of vegetables, and at the end of the season, they will harvest the crops and use them to prepare a meal to share with the entire school.

“There’s nothing better than hands-on learning,” says Shirley. “It’s more in-depth, and a garden does that so well. When we picked our cabbage, the kids’ eyes were so big, and they were so excited to tell me about it. When you see that enthusiasm and energy, it’s very powerful in the learning experience.”

Contact Nick Friedman at [email protected].


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