It?s a growing thing at Goessel

Goessel second graders proudly exhibit produce from their school garden. This year they have harvested more than 125 pounds of sweet potatoes alone.Goessel Grade School students are really digging at least one of their weekly activities, and lately have been reaping the rewards of their effort for the benefit of the whole school.

This fall, students are harvesting sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, green peppers, okra, pumpkins and more from their school garden.

At last report, students had gathered 126 pounds of sweet potatoes alone, plus bushels of cucumbers and green peppers.

A portion of the fresh produce ends up in the school cafeteria, according to Pam Abrahams, who is in her second year as coordinator of this project-based learning enterprise.

?One of our big crops has been cantaloupe,? Abrahams said. ?That has been an easy one for the cooks. They have a salad bar, so they cut it up and put it out there a lot?probably a couple of times a week because we?ve had so much of it.

?The tomatoes and green peppers they put out on the salad bar for salads,? she added. ?And I think they used the tomatoes with hamburgers one day. A lot of fresh produce is what they prefer.?

John Fast, grade school principal and district superintendent, said the school garden enhances, but doesn?t replace, the food supplies the district orders.

?We are required by federal guidelines to have certain quantities of major food groups on the student trays,? he said. ?So what we do is we add to the tray by placing the garden produce on the a la carte table and students select as they want from that.?

Regular routine

Third-grader Jake Flaming proudly display a sizeable sweet potato.As garden coordinator, Abrahams works with students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the 60-foot by 90-foot garden for a 30-minute session on a weekly and sometimes bi-weekly basis.

It?s a hands-on experience that seems to be both education and fun. Each grade is assigned to a different growing area within the larger garden.

?Some of the things I hope they get out of it are an enjoyment for being outdoors, growing their own food and that they learn where food comes from,? Abrahams said. ?They also learn some teamwork and a good work effort by being out there together as a class.?

Kids are not necessarily natural agronomists, she added.

?It is interesting to see that some of them at first don?t like to get their hands dirty,? Abrahams said. ?And some of them kind of freak out about the bugs or worms. We spread straw on the garden and there?s always some kids who really don?t like to mess with the straw.

Student Zach Nolte helps gardening coordinator Pam Abrahams to dig and harvest potatoes. Students spend about 30 minutes a week in the garden.?Today I had a girl who was picking tomatoes and said, ?The grass is pokey.? I said, ?Well, yes it is.? We do have some weeds and grass that are getting out of hand,? she added with a laugh.

Overall, the students have been ?pretty good? at pulling out the right vegetation when it?s time to weed the garden.

?Once in a while the (garden) plants get pulled, too,? Abrahams said.

Growing into the role

Abrahams became the garden coordinator last school year after her predecessor resigned.

?I said I?m not a professional gardener or a scientist really, but I?m a licensed elementary teacher,? Abra?hams said. ?I don?t know everything about gardening, but I do enjoy sharing what I know with the kids at school and seeing their excitement with that.?

Fast said, ?What I like about this program is it is hands-on practical learning that the kids enjoy (and) kids are more likely to try foods they think they don?t like if they grow it themselves. I?m always amazed how many kids enjoy broccoli in the spring when they grow it themselves.

?This gardening program is a great way to integrate learning from health, science, nutrition and team building.?

Added Abrahams, ?We try to incorporate a few science lessons once in a while?either soil conservation or plant parts, things like that. It?s sort of whatever we can think of.?

The garden project actually begins prior to the start of the fall term.

?In the summertime we get parent volunteers to maintain the garden,? Abrahams said. ?Then the students come in and they get to take home the produce they pick during their week.?

Abrahams said the garden project is actually a team effort that involves teachers and support staff as well as students.

?I really appreciate the cooks and their willingness to prepare the things we bring in,? she said. ?I appreciate the teachers and their willingness to bring the kids out. Some of the teachers really like to extend (the garden project) into their classrooms. I?m really glad that they like to do that as well.?

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