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Thanks for the messages

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Operation Post Card, in which I asked readers to talk back to me, produced an amazing number of questions and suggestions for making this column better. Thanks to all of you more than 1,000 readers who responded.

One letter, in particular, caught my attention. Jim Duffey, a speech pathologist with the Pinellas County school system, wrote about a gardening project he undertook with his students last year at 16th Street Middle School in St. Petersburg.

Here are some excerpts from his letter, describing how the youngsters met a gardening challenge:

"During the 1992-93 school year, my class discussed world hunger with pictures of starving people passed around the group. Then I changed the subject to hungry people in the St. Petersburg area.

"Students agreed they could grow food on the abandoned campus agricultural garden site. They adopted a "rule of thirds' and agreed to donate one third, sell one third and eat one third of whatever produce they might grow.

"On 7,000 square feet the group grew more than half a ton of produce. The entire garden, grown organically, used companion planting concepts and other earth-friendly techniques. I was amazed to learn how much our youths did not know about where food came from.

"At the conclusion of the project, the young people donated more than 300 pounds of fresh produce to the St. Vincent de Paul food kitchen. They sold an equal amount and took the same amount home.

"I was so proud of my students. We called the plot the Martin Luther King Victory Garden since we had broken ground on Martin Luther King Day 1993. I believe the gardening experiment embraces a concept of true school reform. It provided disadvantaged youth with self-esteem and purpose. A number practiced English skills by writing essays of their gardening experience. Some also learned accounting methods whenever they sold produce.

"School gardens may be only incidental in the United States, but Thailand provides each school with space for growing vegetables. In the not-too-distant future, gardens may become part of the learning experience. In our project no school money was spent. Everyone won, and the operation paid for itself."

Anyone who would like to learn more about the school gardening project and its value may write to Jim Duffey at P.O. Box 10961, St. Petersburg 33733. School groups can order low-cost seeds from Operation Green Plant. Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to America the Beautiful Fund, 219 Shoreham Bldg., Washington, DC 20005. The seeds cost nothing but packaging and postage.

Leo Van Meer's book, Natural Gardening, is available from Van Meer Publishing, P.O. Box 8127, Clearwater, FL 34618 ($10.95 post-paid, plus 77 cents sales tax). Address questions to Garden Naturally, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.


The following readers were chosen in a drawing Feb. 15 from postcards submitted to this column:

Jackie Rupp, Clearwater

Leonard J. Moffet, Clearwater

Dorothy Seiber, Homosassa

Mrs. E. H. Davidson, Dunedin

Helen T. Burns, St. Petersburg

Each received an autographed copy of Leo Van Meer's book.

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