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Charlotte students’ learning grows with garden

By Reid Creager

Correspondent

A group of fifth-graders at Hawk Ridge Elementary enjoy growing vegetables for others in need right now. Teachers and families enjoy the values and skills these students are planting for the future.

Last year, four kids at the Ballantyne-area school wrote a grant proposal to start a garden and got approval from Summerville, S.C.-based Katie’s Krops, a beneficiary sponsored by Opal apples. Then they rolled up their sleeves and got busier.

In the garden’s first year, a half-dozen or so students overseen by teacher Luci Unferth grew and donated more than 150 pounds of vegetables from their four 8-by-8 beds to the Harrison United Methodist Church branch of Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. This year another fifth-grade class added four beds through the Field to Fork program, doubling the promise of another fruitful growing season.

“We’re trying to restore the garden (for the spring) now that we harvested the crops,” said Siddhant Doshi, who along with Danielle Owens, Jackie Stoehr and Henry Wood co-wrote the grant proposal and are actively involved in tending the garden. “We’re planting potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and squash.”

Unferth, who taught fourth grade before moving to fifth grade for 2012-13, has been able to enjoy her gardening “family” a second straight year: “It’s been great to see the growth of the garden for these two years and work together over that time with the students.”

The lessons for all have been as important as in any textbook - the benefits of growing food locally; the need to give back to others; the results of strong organization and planning; accountability and responsibility.

As was the case last year, local families will take care of the garden during summer vacation. Students Roman Peace, Julia Haines and Bella Thews helped lead those efforts and witness the garden’s rewards. Roman said the summer planting, watering and weeding were “lots of hard work, but it was very fun harvesting all the plants.”

Julia said she went with her mom on one of the weekly trips to the food bank.

“We got to see all the things that we donated from the summer. I felt really proud of our group,” she said.

Added Danielle: “It was kind of an eye-opener to see different families and how we impact their lives by giving to Second Harvest.”

Teachers emphasize the importance of the $450 grant from Katie’s Krops, the impetus to put everything in motion.

“You can grow anything from seed and it’s not too expensive to get going,” said teacher Carrie Stoehr. “But all the supports and tomato cages and the fertilizer and the compost you add to the beds and the hoses and spigots and the soil – that was huge.

“Now we have everything, the tools to work with so you can have seven or eight kids working out there at once.”

The vegetable beds serve as a great teaching tool for all grades at the school, which hopes to train kids in the lower grades and keep the program growing when the fifth-graders move on to middle school.

Meanwhile, many of the students have started gardens at their own homes now that they understand how locally grown food can help preserve habitat for wildlife, save energy and grow local economies.

“It’s amazing what kids do when they have a purpose they feel strongly about, helping in our community,” Stoehr said.

Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at rcreags@voyager.net.
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