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Fifth grade teacher Rebekah Koonce watched as her students walked through the Seeds of Hope Teaching Garden across from Vick Elementary School.
“They are so excited. They love to learn,” said Koonce, who is also on the board for Seeds of Hope Wilson and has been part of the planning and development process for the project.
Koonce’s students have a small raised plot where they have lettuce and strawberries planted.
“Our plot is right here, but nothing’s coming up quite yet,” Koonce said. “It is a good opportunity for the kids. They are excited about being a part of this and having this right across the street from them so they can come in and learn new things. It goes along with out science standards we are teaching. So it’s hands-on. They are hands-on students. They like to touch, feel and be a part of that, so it takes it back to the classroom where they can apply what they are learning.”
Priscilla Morello, executive director for Seeds of Hope Wilson, said the first set of students came through the garden on Nov. 7.
“Our whole reason for being is to be interacting with the students, and this is actually the second group,” Morello said. “To see the students learn about the garden and see their own garden plot and find out what is in the communal garden has been very exciting both for them and for us.”
Julia Newton, a Wilson County master gardener and Seeds of Hope garden coordinator, said it’s wonderful to have the Vick students walk over to the garden.
“They are so excited about seeing different things, especially seeing the carrots coming out of the ground,” Newton said. “They love pulling up that carrot and seeing it. Many kids don’t have that firm connection to gardens and gardening as they once did. I think it is important for kids to see how plants grow. They really enjoy being here so much.”
The garden gives children the opportunity to smell, taste and touch.
“I am really interested in having the children use their five senses in the garden,” Newton said. “Since we are an organic garden and we don’t use chemicals, it is OK for children to taste things. It is really interesting to watch them trying to identify things. Many kids are not familiar with the taste of dill, so I can give it to them and they can nibble on it and try to guess what it might be, but as soon as I say pickles, then they know what it is.”
Currently, the garden is growing cool-season crops.
“We divide the vegetables into three main groups: root vegetables, leafy vegetables and fruit vegetables,” Newton said. “Root vegetables are vegetables where we eat the root like carrots and radishes.”
Leafy vegetables include lettuce and cilantro.
“There is a large Hispanic population at Vick Elementary School, so it is fun to be able to grow some plants that those kids are familiar with also,” Newton said.
The only fruiting plant this year is peas, which are just beginning to climb up bamboo trellises.
Adjacent to the teaching garden is a communal garden that adult volunteers tend.
The children get to see carrots, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens, garlic, onions, radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, dill and parsley.
“We have thought for five years that we would love to have this garden, and now that we actually do and the kids are here, it is a dream come true,” Morello said.
Morello said groups of third, fourth and fifth graders are participating in after-school garden clubs.
They are being taught by 4-H representatives and following junior master gardener programs.
“To see the wheels turning, how they are growing, how they are learning various facets that come with the garden has been a thrill,” Morello said.
“This is called experiential learning,” Newton said. “That has been scientifically proved to be really important. You really just absorb more learning when things are happening right in front of you rather than reading it out of a book, and we want to put the power of experiential learning right into the hands of these kids. Kids have to learn where there food comes from, and this is a great way for them to do so.”