Exploring Nature’s Bounty

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Thursday August 25, 2011

At the Orchard Elementary School, there is a high standard set for teaching students stewardship for the environment. One of the main ways the school accomplishes this is through food education, specifically using school gardens. This summer, the gardens have come alive and the children in the School’s Out Program are there to witness the ever changing landscape.

In order to ensure that the gardens are maintained for further teaching in the fall, it is important to have interns guiding children. We are rising seniors in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at UVM. We met many families and children as we helped support the fabulous Spring Fling dinner, sponsored by the Orchard PTO.  Our summer work began with designing the Eat the Rainbow Gardens, learning about this diverse child-centered landscape, and will conclude with planting cover crops in the fall with students directed by teachers.

We help maintain more than ten gardens on site with children mentored by a teacher with support from the PTO Sustainable Living Committee. All of the food gardens, and most of the flower gardens are connected with students and teachers through curriculum. Interning at Orchard School means more than maintenance tasks; and is focused on teaching environmental stewardship to children in the School’s Out Program.

Garden Club is an opportunity for children to explore their connections with food and the natural world. Allowing children to work with nature to produce food encourages the development of positive connections to their natural surroundings, and in turn environmental stewardship. This further promotes the development of healthy and sustainable communities. We encourage the growth of these values through involving children in the many different tasks around the school’s campus.

Daily activities in the Garden Club vary, but include planting, weeding, harvesting, watering, art, cooking and games. We host Garden Club three days a week with children who choose to participate, and could have anywhere from two children to thirteen. Activities in the beginning of the summer were more maintenance oriented, and now that the garden’s bounty has arrived, we are able to incorporate more cooking into our activities. Recently, a favorite cooking activity was making pickles. Children harvested cucumbers and dill from the garden, then each filled a mason jar with the mixture. Sampling followed the next day, and most children were pleased with the results. Even if a child encounters an unfamiliar or disliked vegetable, we encourage them to take a “no thank you bite” to at least try. All of the children are more apt to try these new foods when they have been involved and connected to the growing process. Last week, we made a stir fry with several vegetables, including kale, zucchini, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes. One child expressed dislike for one vegetable, but upon tasting the stir fry medley, exclaimed that the final product was delicious.

Through our work at the Orchard School this summer, children have helped us to learn. We have learned how to design gardens to be friendlier, more inviting spaces. We have also learned how to intrigue them with a wide variety of crops, such as kale, fennel, several varieties of beets, radishes and pole beans. We also now recognize the importance of successional planting, as gardens appear more lavish when they are overflowing with several varieties of plants. This ensures harvest into the fall with beets and carrots. Even sooner, the harvesting of the ever sprawling cantaloupe.

SOURCE: Kirsten Keenan and Casey Hancock, Orchard Elementary School Interns