Children grow vegetables, learn skills in sustainable school garden | Louisiana News

By MELINDA MARTINEZ, The Town Talk

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) – Just like literacy and math, sixth graders at Rapides Academy for Advanced Academics are learning the benefits of sustainable gardening with help from the Good Food Project.

The Good Food Project is a program run by the Food Bank of Central Louisiana that distributes food grown in its demonstration garden to customers and teaches community members how to grow their own food. The program also works with schools to grow their own gardens and teach students about gardening, food preparation and health.

Students can implement the garden with what they have learned in other subjects such as English language arts, math, science and history, said Jessica Smith, teacher and garden sponsor.

For example, Principal Jenifer Scott encouraged students and Smith encouraged students to observe the garden and write about it in their journals, said Frances Boudreaux, GFP director. This is just one of the ways it has been applied to ELA.

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Students also learn that gardening involves the principles of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Sixth graders at Rapides Academy harvest red potatoes they planted in February.

“The kids are really excited to be able to plant and see everything grow,” Smith said. “And they actually have to eat everything we’ve planted and grown.”

In addition, the Good Food Project teaches students about nutrition so they can make healthy choices.

So far they’ve harvested radishes, mustard greens and mangetout in two raised beds installed by GFP, who also provided seed and crops.

What has been the most popular vegetable among students so far?

“Mangetout,” Smith replied.

“They weren’t crazy about mustard greens,” she said.

In addition to green beans, they recently harvested red potatoes that were planted in February.

Boudreaux showed the students how to lift the plant to remove the potatoes. They were excited to see the results of their efforts. After this task was completed, Boudreaux showed them how to pick green beans.

“They’re looking forward to trying the potatoes and beans next week,” Smith said. “I’ll probably have to go home and cook them, and then we’ll have lunch – a snack.”

But the potatoes have to be cured, said Boudreaux. This takes about six days. And you can take some of it home with you.

Sixth grader Nathalie Buller’s family has their own garden where vegetables such as potatoes, green beans and sugar snap peas are grown. They were inspired by their sister’s sixth grade class at Pineville Junior High School, who planted her own garden

She prefers the vegetables she grows herself because they taste sweeter than the store-bought ones.

“Because they add a lot of chemicals in the factories,” she explains the difference in taste.

Her favorites are green beans and broccoli.

“We also grow a lot of flowers and a lot of milkweed for butterflies and things like that,” she said.

Nathalie added that her family also grows their own condiments, like mustard.

“Using your own spices — it kind of makes the whole thing better because you know you grew it yourself,” she said. “It kind of lights up the whole court.”

She feels energetic when she’s out in the sun and is having fun the whole time. Gardening has been a great family project for the Bullers.

“It’s a lot of fun to go out and plant and harvest everything,” she said.

“Sustainable gardening is something they can use for the rest of their lives after they’re gone,” Smith said. “They implement what they learn in school and can take it outside.”

“Since 2021, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in school and community gardens,” Boudreaux said. “Teachers and representatives of other organizations have sought to be included on the list of new installations and the extension or improvement of existing gardens.”

Rapides Academy and Lessie Moore Elementary School in Pineville were brought in as new pilot school partners this year, where new garden sites were added, Boudreaux said.

“The Food Bank of Cenla’s Good Food Project hopes to be a reliable resource for teaching students and families how to grow their own food,” she said.

Learning sustainable gardening practices is a huge benefit, especially during times of high demand, rising food prices and supply shortages, she added.

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