Occasionally you get to see something that inspires you so much you can’t stop thinking about the possibilities. I met teacher, Mark Painter, and his enthusiastic volunteer staff of parents and admirers on a recent trip to Dallas at Stonewall Jackson elementary school garden. Mark’s philosophy is that you have to teach the younger children the importance of good nutrition and how healthy food is grown so they get the right appreciation for it before they have too many other distractions when they get older. At the elementary level, children all enjoy the garden and can easily grasp the concepts to develop a love for the environment and growing their own food. Then as they grow up their expectations are properly aligned with the kind of food we all need for a healthy diet.
Mark told me the kids love to eat the tender raw okra right out of the garden. It is fast growing, prolific and a great southern crop to sink your teeth into. Mark teaches them to use lots of compost and an efficient no-till method. Free mulch from neighborhood arborists keeps the garden weeds to a manageable level. The students plant the okra in pots of compost enriched soil buried in the garden and use a micro sprayer in each pot to teach the value of water and how to concentrate it where it is needed with the least amount of waste. Mark says the children are fascinated by all the beneficial and pest insects attracted to the garden. Children get to share, work and learn science together in an educational setting they will remember for the rest of their lives. Read their recent blog post and you will see what I mean.
With drip and micro irrigation and plenty of compost, Stonewall Gardens produces lots of food for it’s small size. More than that, Stonewall teachers work together with their science curriculum to inspire children for a lifetime of healthy eating and an understanding of good nutrition. There parents become involved and inspired to grow some of their own food in a small space at home. Imagine getting extra credit for growing some healthy vegetables at home for your family.
You have to appreciate the large sums of cash from The Gates Foundation and Facebook and other private concerns going toward improving they way students learn with computers. This effort is more beneficial, in my opinion, because it does a better job of instilling a lifetime connection with science, nature, nutrition, management and learning. Instilling these values and knowledge in similar programs would be a great thing for the food industry, food retailers and agriculture to fund and connect their products and names to improving health, education and society. School boards need to be made aware of the Stonewall Garden project and how it can raise the education levels of their students.
At Stonewall garden they plant herbs, eggplant and peppers in large buried containers to confine the compost and focus the irrigation and organic fertilizer.
The parents volunteer with some of the weeding and composting to keep the garden neat and organized.
In this exercise the students are taught to record their crops progress and to recognize the leaf shape so they can distinguish their seedlings from the weeds.
The classes feed and tend the chickens which stimulate them to ask many questions as they become immersed in the garden and farm while learning where food comes from and how it impacts their diet.
Students study and plant wild flowers and the butterflies and hummingbirds they attract. This close link to the environment broadens the understanding of these children raised in this urban area.
The Stonewall Jackson Garden website will answer more of the questions I hope I have stirred in this post. Read back through their blog posts to get a feel for how they interact with the community and the students. I hope you are as inspired as I am. This ought to be a feature on 60 Minutes.
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