Kids grow veg, gain skills in sustainable school garden

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) — Just like reading, writing and arithmetic, Rapides Academy for Advanced Academics' sixth graders are learning how beneficial sustainable gardening is with the help of the Good Food Project.

The Good Food Project is a program of the Food Bank of Central Louisiana that distributes food grown in its demonstration garden to clients and teaches community members how to grow their own food. The program also partners with schools to grow their own gardens and teach students about gardening, food preparation and health.

Students are able to implement the garden with what they’ve learned in other subjects like English language arts, math, science and history, said Jessica Smith, teacher and garden sponsor.

For example, students were encouraged by principal Jenifer Scott and Smith encouraged students to observe the garden and write about it in their journals, said Frances Boudreaux, GFP director. This is just one of the ways it applied to ELA.

Students also learn that gardening incorporates the principles of S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Sixth-graders at Rapides Academy harvest red potatoes that they planted in February.

“The kids are really excited to be able to plant everything and watch it grow,” Smith said. “And they’ve actually got to eat everything we’ve planted and grown.”

In addition, Good Food Project teaches the students about nutrition so they can make healthy eating choices.

So far they have harvested radishes, mustard greens and sugar snap peas in two raised garden beds installed by GFP which also supplied seeds and crops.

What has been the most popular vegetable with students so far?

“Sugar snap peas,” replied Smith.

The least popular?

“They weren’t crazy about mustard greens,” she said.

Recently they harvested red potatoes that were planted in February in addition to green beans.

Boudreaux showed the students how to lift the plant to remove the potatoes. They were excited to see the results of their efforts. After that task was done, Boudreaux showed them how to pick green beans.

“They’re excited to try the potatoes and beans next week,” said Smith. “I’ll probably have to go home and cook them and then we’ll have a lunch - a snack.”

But the potatoes have to cure, said Boudreaux. That will take about six days. And they’ll also be able to take some home with them.

Sixth-grader Nathalie Buller’s family has their own garden where they have grown vegetables like potatoes, green beans and sugar snap peas. They were inspired by her sister’s 6th grade class at Pineville Junior High School which grew their own garden

She prefers the homegrown vegetables because they taste sweeter than the ones purchased in the store.

“Because they add a lot of chemicals in the factories,” she explained about the difference in taste.

Her favorites are green beans and broccoli.

“We also grow a lot of flowers and a lot of milkweed for butterflies and things like that,” she said.

Nathalie added that her family also grows their own spices like mustard.

“Using your own spices - it just kind of makes the whole thing better because you know you grew it by yourself,” she said. “It kind of enlightens the whole dish.”

She feels energetic when she is outside in the sun and has fun the entire time. Gardening has been a great family-building project for the Bullers.

“It’s a lot of fun to go out and plant everything and harvest,” she said.

“Doing sustainable gardening is something they can use for the rest of their lives after they leave here,” said Smith. “They’re implementing what they’re learning in school and being able to take it outside.”

“We have seen a resurgence in interest in school and community gardens since 2021,” said Boudreaux. “Teachers and representatives of other organizations have reached out to be placed on the list of new installations and for expansion or improvement of existing garden sites.”

Rapides Academy and Lessie Moore Elementary School in Pineville were brought on as new pilot school partners this year where new garden sites were added, said Boudreaux.

“The Food Bank of Cenla’s Good Food Project hopes to be a reliable resource for teaching students and families how to grow their own food,” she said.

Learning sustainable gardening practices is an enormous benefit, especially in these times of high demand, rising food prices and supply shortages, she added.