“How come that cucumber is so big?”
“How can these banana-shaped things be peppers?”
These are some of the questions that students at Luther Porter Jackson Middle School asked as they harvested their first school garden.
The school garden project — a collaboration of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Surry County Office and the middle school — promotes healthier lifestyles through better nutrition and increased activity.
“We incorporated science, engineering, technology, and math, as well as numerous aspects of healthy living,” said Billie Jean Elmer, unit coordinator and 4-H agent for Surry County. “One would think in a rural community that children would have a gardening background; however, just like many of their urban community partners, the home garden is not so common anymore.”
The program began last fall with a short lesson on container gardening. Students were encouraged to plant their own small container garden at home and to ask family members with gardening experience to help them with its day-to-day logistics.
In late winter, Elmer, along with Glenn Slade, agricultural and natural resources agent, met with students to design the school garden and determine what vegetables to plant. The young people used math and science skills to determine the garden’s size and fertilization needs.
Later in the spring, local businesses donated plants for the school garden or provided them at a reduced price. The students enjoyed planting, hand working and tilling the ground, and harvesting the vegetables, not realizing the calories they were burning from physical movement — another benefit of gardening.
The students began harvesting in July. Donna McBride, family and consumer sciences agent, and Shevonne Newby, family nutrition program assistant, helped teach them about each vegetable’s nutritional value.
Surry County Extension Leadership Council member Jackie Johnson coordinated the first tasting from the garden’s yield. Johnson — who is also the school’s work and family studies teacher — had the students prepare the food for a taste test. Zucchini cookies, fried squash and zucchini, and eggplant Parmesan were among the new recipes they enjoyed.
School Principal Charlome Pierce praised the value of the project. “The physical work plus the nutritional lessons are exciting for our students. I am so glad we were able to work on this project together,” she said.
What’s next? The students are creating a display for their school garden entry at the state fair and plan to improve on the lessons learned from their first year.
Submitted by: Billie Jean Elmer, Surry County