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MA - Samuel Smith Elementary

Burlington City, NJ

Students Learn About Plant Life From the Ground Up

There's a lot of exuberance going on at Samuel Smith Elementary, and it's all due to a few seeds and a lot of people working together to build something special.

The school received $2,000 in grant money from Whole Kids Foundation to be put toward a multi-faceted garden project. Funds were carefully earmarked. Six raised garden beds (4'x6' each), four large pots for use in a sensory garden, a pumpkin patch, two rain barrels, high-quality lumber, soil, mulch, and a wealth of supplies were purchased. The school also bought child-sized garden tools and paint for decorating the garden structure.

One parent, a carpenter, generously volunteered to help with construction, while a board member offered to till the ground. From then on students, along with their parents and teachers, pitched in to put down soil and mulch.

Through private funds, the school also purchased small greenhouses for each classroom into which students sowed tomatoes from seed as well as green beans and cucumbers. Once viable, the plants were transferred outdoors to the garden.

Then the real fun began. "Classrooms used the garden space as an extension of the classroom," says garden coordinator Regina Genovesi. "Teachers utilized the garden in science and math lessons….Classrooms signed up for times to visit the garden and some of the activities included watering and weeding, sowing seeds directly, harvesting vegetables, sitting at the picnic tables for snack time, and reading a book outside in the garden.

"It really became an extension of the classroom and embraced by all teachers," says Regina Genovesi. "At any given moment you could look out the window and see students in the garden."

Benefits of the garden project have been many-fold. The children learned about the life cycle of vegetables and what it takes to have them develop into thriving, productive plants. And for children whose diets are limited, it was an eye-opening experience to see—and taste—unfamiliar foods.

"Students were able to see how food is grown from seed to plants," Regina says. "(They) loved visiting the garden and many children sampled foods that they had never heard of --mustard greens, kale, spinach, etc."

The school celebrated the garden with a "Wake Up the Garden" event, and "invited community members, staff, students, and families. Children participated by playing musical instruments and we released ladybugs into the air." (Adding ladybugs to a garden is a natural way to keep pests at bay.)

Since the school was able to save a bit of the grant money, next on the to-buy list are plants to create a butterfly garden. And down the road the school hopes to add different plants to the garden as well as integrate more garden-related lessons and activities to the school curriculum.

"The possibilities are endless for our garden and we are grateful to be on this journey," says Regina.

But perhaps the best endorsement of the school's garden came from one of the students, working in the soil: "I really loved when we found two worms in the dirt!"