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Growing smarter at Luther Elementary
School garden, produce part of curriculum in all grades
Any skeptics who think children don't like to eat their veggies might take a look at Luther Elementary School.
When teachers bring their students into the Live Oak school's sprawling garden, the children are quick to start chomping into sweet peppers, munching on tomatoes warmed by the sun and snapping bites of green beans straight from the vine.
A hobby-like interest turned educational opportunity, the garden is accessible to all of the school's 700 students and has been incorporated into many teachers' lessons.
"A lot of the kids have never seen a carrot pulled out of the ground. All of a sudden, they are learning where potatoes come from," said teacher Harold Romano, who soon will use the garden's sunflowers for an assignment with his kindergartners.
A garden has existed at Luther Elementary in some regard for at least 15 years, but it wasn't until about five years ago that it began to sprout into something big. The raised beds have been rehabbed; volunteers pushed out the fence to expand the space; and librarian Joni Kelly and her husband, Robert, donated a compost "tea" for a fertilizing boost.
Today, volunteer sunflowers tower above rows of planted produce, giant pumpkins swell in girth on a near-daily basis and bees hover around morning glorys, basil and lavender flowers. Bell peppers, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes and several varieties of melons provide ample produce for students and teachers to take home.
"I like about the garden that we get to eat black cherry tomatoes," said Juan Ramirez, 8. "They are healthy for me, and it's really good. A school should have a garden because they can serve vegetables to kids and be really healthy."
Fourth-grader Abbey Willis, 9, shared a bunch of seeds she had been given by a family member. She's learned a lot about plants in the outdoor classroom, but mostly she likes that it comes with snacks.
"I gotta say, tomatoes are my favorite vegetables to eat," she said, adding that she also enjoys green beans because "they taste like something green."
The children scurry almost daily among the tomatoes, which are often as tall as they are, or dodge watermelons and honeydews in pursuit of something ripe to pick.
"I need more of these. These are delicious," said Gerardo Fernandez, 8, as he formed a pouch with the front of his shirt to carry several pounds of tomatoes, radishes and green beans.
The garden can work with all areas of curriculum, Romano said. Children can write about it for English language arts; draw it for art; count seeds, leaves or germination times for math; and study all elements of growing for science.
"It's just a matter of what teachers want to do what," said Darrell Stewart, whose third-graders likely spend the most time in the garden of any grade. "More teachers are buying into the program because the kids get so hands on."
His students are competing in a grow-the-biggest-cabbage contest, courtesy of Bonnie Plants. Each student took their own seedling home and a few are planted in the school's garden, where they are considered "normal-sized" when they begin to look like bowling balls.
Last year, now-fourth-grader Nicholas Goodman, 9, grew a 24.5 pound cabbage, feeding it with cow manure and fertilizer to help it along. He still likes to make trips to the school garden.
"It's just enjoyable to hang out with your friends in the garden," he said. "I like the flowers, because of how beautiful they look, and the bees keep the plants alive and make honey."