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Lakewood Elementary, Eckerd College harmonize with garden

ST. PETERSBURG

You never know what a garden will sprout.

Lakewood Elementary School's new garden is running over with corn and tomatoes, zucchini and squash. Carrots play hide-and-seek. Sunflowers beam.

But even sweeter things have taken root. Somewhere between the worms in the compost pile, fifth-graders with watering cans, and shaggy college kids with wheelbarrows full of heart, a riot of warm fuzzies has blossomed.

"I thought, 'Great, the kids will learn about healthy food,' " said Lakewood principal Kathleen Young, who gave the okay for the garden last year. "I never thought it would build relationships."

"It has some miracle qualities, let me tell you," said special-education teacher Larré Davis.

Miracles? From a garden?

When 14 students from Eckerd College began prepping the soil in January, most had never worked a garden before. Their environmental studies professor, Kip Curtis, was just hoping something green would erupt — and that a class of fifth-graders with emotional and behavioral disabilities would enjoy watching it unfold.

But the Edible Peace Patch, as it became known, took on a life of its own. The college students, all white, helped Davis' fifth-graders, all black, plant and water, weed and harvest. They became mentors.

But they couldn't keep the garden to themselves. Kindergarteners showed up, grabbing dirt with tiny hands. Second-graders started making regular visits.

"I've got a bunch of little buddies now," said Eckerd student Dylan O'Brien, 21.

Two weeks ago, every class in the school stopped by. There, lo and behold, kids in the most heavily urbanized county in Florida bore witness to the magic of spinach and radishes, still attached to living plants, far removed from the overwaxed floor of a supermarket. Some plucked and chomped on the spot.

Yes. Kids. Snacking on snap peas.

"They're just delighted by it," said Curtis, whose two children attend Lakewood.

So are moms and dads. Thursday night, more than 200 students and parents packed the cafeteria for a harvest party. They lined up for carrot cake and potato salad and couscous with cucumbers — all made with at least one school-grown vegetable.

"Biggest turnout I've ever seen," said PTA member Kevin Jackson.

Beforehand, the kids got a chance to show their parents what they'd been telling them about for weeks.

"Mom! Cabbage!"

"I found a pineapple!"

"Edible flowers?"

"It's beautiful," said Janine McDonald, whose 6-year-old son Prince-Omari helped with the garden. "They did good with these kids," she said, turning to some of the Eckerd students and clapping.

Everyone believes the garden will keep on giving. The school plans to incorporate it into lesson plans next year, from science experiments to essay writing. The hope is to make it a model for other schools.

The garden "brought two worlds together," said Davis, the special-education teacher. And the interaction planted other seeds we can't see.

Someday, she said, we'll harvest those fruits, too.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Lakewood Elementary, Eckerd College harmonize with garden 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:31am]
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