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April 1, 2015

Spring Arrives With New Lessons

Spring is here! Hopefully the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and you are ready to plant your spring garden!

Students at Whittier Elementary in Costa Mesa, CA, got an early start on their spring planting.  The 50 or so students in the school’s Nature Club planted carrots, broccoli, eggplant, spinach, chard, tomatoes, radish, snap peas and cucumbers.  For a lot of these students, this is their first experience in a garden.  During the Nature Club meeting, teacher Kate Bannert asked a small group of students to point out the corn stalks in the garden and they pointed toward the snap peas.  “They’ve got a lot to learn!” said Bannert.

Although that moment might be cringe-worthy to Western Growers members, it’s reality.  Most children are far removed from agriculture and the knowledge of where their food comes from.

We have found that if you ask students without experience in a school garden where their food comes from you’ll get answers such as “the grocery store” or “the kitchen.”  School gardens help kids experience, first-hand the hard work involved in growing the best medicine in the world.  These experiences provide an understanding of what farmers do every day.

Bannert, along with fellow teachers, Lisa Tupman and Sharon Gasior, divided up students into three smaller groups and took turns teaching them about companion planting.  They learned lessons like marigolds deter some insects, chives can improve the flavor of tomatoes and peas and cucumbers grow well next to one another.

Once the seeds and seedling were planted and they learned about companion planting, the students, armed with their shovels and new gloves (donated by Western Growers Foundation), began hunting for weeds.  Initially, there was some hesitation and discussion about whether certain plants were weeds, but after some encouragement they were having a blast.  It became a competition to either pull the most weeds or pull the biggest weed.  Either way, the garden had a lot less weeds by the end of the Nature Club meeting.  More importantly, students were getting the hands-on experience needed to further their education about where their food really comes from.