all it fate. Last fall, North Carolina Coop-erative Extension agricultural agent Chris Reisinger and his Anson County colleagues were pondering whether a school garden might be useful for teaching children exactly where their food comes from. About that same time, Anson 4-H agent Roshunda Blount received a request from a local teacher for “something new” to present to third-graders.
That’s how the seeds were sown for the Classroom Garden project that Reisinger conducted at Wadesboro Primary School, with help from Blount and local Master Gardener volunteers and start-up funding from a Pee Dee Electric “Bright Ideas” grant. There, over the course of the spring semester, five classes of third graders — about 75 children in all — planted, tended and harvested the produce from their own vegetable garden.
Along with tomatoes and radishes, the children harvested many valuable experiences from the project.
“Our goal was to introduce kids to agriculture and teach how our food, as well as other products, start from a farm and don’t just come from a store,” Reisinger says. “We wanted kids to develop an appreciation for gardening and farming and look more positively at vegetables.”
At the same time, he adds, they experienced plant science, environmental science, horticulture, entomology and soil science. “We also wanted kids to work on other skills while doing the garden,” he says. “They experienced critical thinking, observation, reasoning and problem solving.”
The children used measurement skills to measure the height of a plant, observation skills to look for problems with a plant and reading skills with gardening stories. “They had to understand cause and effect as they recorded temperature and soil moisture to compare with plant growth,” says Reisinger.
In February, the children planted tomato seeds indoors, filled garden beds with soil and planted spinach seeds outside. Then things really stepped up in March and April.
In March, they sowed radishes and turnips; planted lettuce plugs, cauliflower, broccoli transplants and pea seeds; and started recording observations in garden journals. Indoors, they dissected bean seeds and sowed watermelon seeds. Outside they learned about soil, sowed carrot seeds and planted lettuce transplants.
In early April they investigated the growing plants for pest damage. Two weeks later, in a dramatization of fertility and weeds, they pretended they were plants trying to gather nutrients — lessons they put to use as they planted corn, watermelon, tomatoes and peppers outside.
In late April, county livestock agent Richard Melton dropped by to tell the students about careers in agriculture, from his perspectives as an agent and as a farmer.
“Richard went through a lot of the row crops like hay, wheat, corn, beans and cotton and showed the kids what we make with those,” says Reisinger. “He showed how products we can’t consume, like hay, can be fed to animals to produce products we can use, like milk. He talked about how we can grow trees for wood and paper. He showed many agricultural products like oats, cotton plants and wheat so the kids could see what the original raw product is. They were surprised to find out so many products come from a farm.”
Finally in May, the children celebrated with a harvest party, featuring salads made from their garden’s produce. “The children loved the harvest party,” Reisinger says. “They had their lettuce from the garden and radishes and whatever else was ready to pick. They were very proud of their salads.”
And Reisinger is proud of what the project accomplished. “It was very much a success,” he says. “I was happy to see the kids excited about the vegetables and growing them. And I am happy because after the work, the kids have a wonderful garden. The teachers are satisfied with the program and can take it from here to continue.”
Reisinger says that the teachers are not only going to repeat the project next spring, but are considering doing it in fall as well. “The teachers enjoyed it and appreciated all of the work the Cooperative Extension office gave them.”
As for himself, he says, “I’d like to take this program to other schools and help teachers set up and run a school program of their own.”
He is motivated by the enthusiasm he saw in the children. “Whenever I would walk in, the kids were excited to see me, because they knew they were going into the garden.”
A particularly special moment for Reisinger occurred when the school’s music teacher, who had been working with third-graders to write a song, informed him the children had written their song about the garden and invited him to play his guitar to accompany the children as they sang the song to the rest of the school. “It was a lot of fun,” he says — a fun way to cap off a fun project.
“The children seemed to just enjoy being in the fresh air and working in the dirt. They loved to see the plants grow that they were responsible for. I made sure these kids knew these were their plants, and they really took a sense of accomplishment with them,” Reisinger says. “I think the garden helped boost their self-esteem, from their successfully growing these plants.They were able to learn and develop a lot of skills that are going to help them in the future.
“I also think that whenever they pass a farm or buy food from a grocery store, they’ll look at it a little differently after this experience.”