As written for Cabarrus Magazine.
Teachers plant seeds of knowledge, nurture them and watch them grow and mature. By the end of March 2016, every Kannapolis City School will have a sustainable garden on campus where the seeds of knowledge are, quite literally, seeds, planted in the soil, nurtured to maturity and harvested through experiential learning and hands-on lessons in math, science, and nutrition.
Greenhouse Operations & Outreach Specialist Doug Vernon, with the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the NC Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, is spearheading the new garden installations. PHHI researches how fruits and vegetables help improve human health and prevent chronic diseases.
The school garden initiative not only creates outdoor classrooms but cultivates relationships between the NCRC and the community to improve the health of students and inspire families to eat more fruits and vegetables.
The Green Teacher Network of Charlotte compiled research that shows school gardens decrease disruptive student behavior while increasing student engagement and improving academic achievement.
“All students benefit from hands-on activities, but some students thrive on it,” Vernon said. “Students take pride in recognizing that, ‘I planted that row of broccoli, and look how well it turned out.’ It builds confidence in the students that, ‘I can do this.’”
The positive impact is the same whether the garden is in the schoolyard or the backyard.
Building Unity & Finding Solutions
A school garden allows students and teachers to work together toward mutual goals. Similarly, a garden creates a common project for families to share.
“Gardens also help develop problem solving skills.” Vernon observed. “Whether it is how to orient the rows or how do deal with a pest, at home or at school, children can benefit from the challenge of solving problems through gardening.”
Boosting Nutrition Awareness
Parents and teachers know it is difficult to get children to eat vegetables. Research shows that gardening helps children develop better attitudes about fruit and vegetable snacks, which predicts higher produce consumption as adults and helps prevent or delay diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Vernon finds that gardening introduces children to the reality that food doesn’t appear on grocery store shelves. Seeds are planted, and crops are nourished and harvested.
“It’s an invaluable lesson—about food and about life,” he added.
- With lumber, screws and a drill, build raised beds of at least 4-feet x 8-feet.
- Purchase loose garden soil mix in bulk or in bags to fill the bed. A 4×8 raised bed will require approximately 1 cubic yard or 27 cubic feet of soil.
- Plant! For early spring and early fall gardens, purchase transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choi, onions and lettuce. Purchase seeds to direct sow carrots, radishes, beets and turnips. For summer produce, start plants like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers, okra, green beans, eggplant, and potatoes from seeds.
- Water regularly. Remember that in the heat of the summer, plants may need a thorough watering daily.
- Fertilize your plants. Just like people need nutrients to grow strong and healthy so do plants.
- Weeds steal water and nutrients from your vegetables so pull or hoe them. Don’t make it a chore, make it a game! Who can weed a row fastest? Or how many weeds can you pull in five minutes?
- Be aware of pests. Small bugs can be “squished” between little fingers. Wash others off or suffocate them with a soapy water solution.
- Harvest produce when fully ripe. Wash them and then set up a taste testing for the family to experience the raw and cooked flavors of the vegetables. Try different preparation methods. Find foods that children already love to pair with the new flavors.
For more information, contact your County Cooperative Extension office.