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SO - Brown Elementary School

Jackson, Mississippi

A school in a produce-scarce area builds a produce-rich garden

When Brown Elementary School received a grant from Whole Kids Foundation to build a garden on school grounds, the goal was to create one that would suit their 200+ students best. The staff chose to build a bed for each of the classes in the school, resulting in 12 total in-ground beds. The layout also includes an outdoor classroom, blueberry bushes, and strawberry plants. Funds from the grant largely went toward purchase of tools, seeds and seedlings, and paint.

When Planting Day arrrived last spring, Brown students greeted it with interest and got their hands dirty planting crops. Some plants were from the store; others were those raised from seed in classrooms. Each class planted something different.

Garden coordinator Alex Sligar was impressed with the way the kids approached gardening. "All of the students at Brown are the garden heroes," he asserts. "One never knows how a group of young people is going to react to being asked to dig in the dirt, wait for seeds to sprout, and eat fruits and vegetables when they start growing. This school's Pre-K through 5th graders are curious and respectful of the garden."

Alex, and all of the Brown staff, appreciates the support and guidance of their community, many of whom stepped forward as volunteers. From high school and college students, to a farmer, to a personal trainer, to a cooking instructor, some 20 people donated their expertise in order to make the garden successful for the kids. The older students did much of the heavy lifting, stopping by on work days in the garden. The rest offered lessons and how-to's. "All of these partnerships help us build a more sustainable program, and encourage publicity and community involvement," says Alex.

The Brown staff places garden study on par with the rest of the curriculum--a bold choice that has proven positive. The children have become far more plant-savvy. "Eight of Brown's 11 classes have garden class once per week. At Brown, garden class works like any other extension (music, gym, etc.) and is 30 minutes long.

"With the implementation of a 'Vegetable of the Week' program, students are now able to identify whole vegetables that were a mystery to them before. These include beets, Brussels sprouts, dry beans or different kinds, garlic, and others," Alex adds.

Perhaps most importantly, produce interest and knowledge is being driven home in an area with a dearth of fresh produce. The school is, in many ways, making introductions between the children and fruits and vegetables. "They have made the connection between the food they see on their lunch tray and the way all food is grown," says Alex. "When they see a familiar food in the cafeteria, one they know we have growing in our garden, they ask, 'Did this come from our garden?'" What's more, a portion of the produce is sent home to the school's neediest families on Fridays.

"We hope that exposure to these foods now will help our students to be more adventurous eaters throughout their lives," says Alex.