Teaching garden flourishes at Summerfield Elementary

RIVERVIEW

Francesca Alexander smiled as she helped settle the tomato plant into the moist, rich soil. • She paid close attention to the job because she had plans for that tomato plant. • In a few weeks, the fourth-grader planned to return to the garden at Summerfield Elementary School and pluck a juicy, red tomato off the vine and add it to her salad at lunch. • Francesca and the other students at Summerfield spent Thursday morning planting vegetables in their new garden. The "teaching garden" is thanks to a $15,000 grant from the American Heart Association via Citigroup.

The donation covers everything from growing boxes to the soil to the plants.

Principal Derrick McLaughlin jumped at the chance to establish a teaching garden at the school. Not only does the garden show the children where we get our food and teach the importance of eating vegetables, but the project also spills into the classroom, McLaughlin said.

All of the 800-plus students at Summerfield, a K-5 school, are involved in the teaching garden.

"It's that real-world education," McLaughlin said. "They'll see the life cycle of a plant. They'll read about plants."

The students built the entire garden this school year. They put the growing boxes together and hauled soil, bucket after bucket. On Thursday, they got to plant the vegetables. Later, the kids will harvest their goodies. And, the finale will be "tasting day."

Francesca, 9, said she is happy to participate in all the activities.

"It's fun," she said.

Kerry Boldish, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said Citigroup provided the funds for the teaching garden at Summerfield. The association partners with businesses, such as Citigroup, to get schools money for heart-healthy projects, Boldish said.

"They're the backbone that makes this program go," he said.

Mary Garner had dirt on her hands, dirt covering her apron and a few flecks of dirt on her face.

But, the fourth-grade teacher didn't seem to mind the mess. She was happy to see students and faculty excited about the teaching garden.

Garner said it is crucial to push healthy foods to children, as early as possible. That way, they'll hopefully take those good eating habits into adulthood.

"I also think it's important for kids to see where food comes from," said Garner, an avid gardener who is in charge of the project.

The students planted lettuce, tomatoes and some lesser-known vegetables, such as turnips. Garner said the goal is also to get students to try new vegetables. She had her fingers crossed that the root vegetable would find its way onto a few kids' plates on tasting day.

"I hope so," she said, laughing.

Monica Bennett can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Teaching garden flourishes at Summerfield Elementary 09/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 27, 2013 3:04pm]

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