Today is Saturday, July 29, 2017

School system's new Garden Program nurtures, gets kids in the dirt

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Addison Deem loves to get her hands and the dirt and plant. This Lakeview Elementary School fourth grader meets often with her school Garden Club peers to nurture the school garden they've spent weeks planting.

"I like working with my friends and getting dirty," she said. "It's fun!"

There are four schools in the Wilson County Nutrition School Garden Program, said Kathy Drummond, Wilson County Schools Nutrition Field Supervisor. This is the inaugural "season" of the program that Drummond, Director of School Nutrition Melody Turner and School Nutrition Field Supervisor (and Master Gardener-in training) Marilla Belote discovered when they attended the Southeast Farm to School conference in South Carolina last fall.

"We returned with great enthusiasm to share what we learned with our schools and their students," said Drummond. "Our School Garden Program pilot was offered to every elementary school in our system. Each school had the opportunity to participate based on interest and ability to support the program through teacher sponsors."

The four schools able to make the commitment this spring are Lakeview, W.A Wright, Mt. Juliet Elementary and Caroll Oakland in Lebanon.

"We are thrilled at their willingness to participate," she said.

Lakeview and Carroll Oakland had existing garden locations they were able to utilize with minor improvements, but brand new 4' x 4' raised beds were built and installed by the Wilson County Nutrition Department at the other two schools.

"We are passionate about our students learning about good food and good nutrition from the ground up," said Drummond. "We believe the program has much to offer, not only to the students who participate in the club itself, but all students. We encourage each school to utilize the garden for teaching of every day curriculum."

Each school Garden Club has a journal where they record their experiences, successes, and yes, even failures. In addition, the club members enjoy the "fruits" of their labors by harvesting, washing, preparing and eating the foods they have grown in their respective school kitchens.

Katherine Tennant is Lakeview's Garden Club sponsor. She teaches kindergarten there and is married with a 2-year-old.

"The school system wanted to bring veggies to the kids," she said. "Of course I was interested because I'm a gardener. It's wonderful to be part of the inaugural program here."

There's a courtyard space at Lakeview and the club - that has kindergarteners through fourth grade members - and their parents, broke ground last month.

"We have great parent support and there were several digging days after school," Tennant said.

They planted carrots, radishes, lettuce, corn and even some sunflowers. They hope to incorporate a butterfly garden as well.

The student members had to write an essay to explain why they wanted to be in the club. Seventeen students at Lakeview applied.

"They were all so sweet, I didn't turn down any of them," Tennant said with a laugh.

They meet every Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mom Lauren McDonald helps her child in the garden, with sibling in a back papoose also part of the fun.

Addison's mom, Misha, and dad Todd love the effort and fellowship. They have a small garden at home.

"We love whole foods and love to cook," said Misha. "We believe in natural things, things God gives us to eat. I think the garden project is a teaching tool. The kids learn to be leaders and have fun with their peers. We've tilled, pulled rock, made borders and planted. It shows our kids how to live off the land and realize natural resources are a gift."
Lakeview Principal Tracey Burge is all in for the project.

"We must not limit a child's education to the four walls of the classroom," she said. "As a society, we have stolen opportunities away from our children that allow them to work with their hands and invest in true, life-sustaining skills. We are fortunate to be afforded this program and I am so very proud of the educators who are volunteering to support it."

Burge said her best moment since the garden was planted was when some of the students ran up to her to show her a frog they found while planting.

"Their sweet faces had dirt and sweat smeared across them, but it was the pure excitement that got my attention," she said. "That's an educator's dream."

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