Growing Young Gardeners

Fifth graders at Beaver Meadow Elementary School in Concord, N.H. know vegetables don't just come from the grocery store. They also come from the garden just outside their school - a garden they created themselves.

Beaver Meadow's innovative school gardening program recently won the first annual Healthy Sprout Award from the National Gardening Association, which included a $1,000 cash prize donated by Gardener's Supply. The Healthy Sprout Award honors schools and organizations that use gardening to teach about nutrition and explore issues of hunger in the United States. The school was chosen from more than 400 entries.

Students grow a wide variety of produce in the garden, and much of it is donated to the Friends Emergency Shelter Program, which provides housing for homeless families.

"As a public school, we are part of the community," teacher Lisa Burton said. "Through our studies of nutrition and homelessness, we have realized there are many people right here that need a helping hand. The garden has been a great learning tool for the kids."

The triangular garden is wedged between a hill where the kids like to sled and the parking lot on the only flat, open space to be found. One recent sunny afternoon, Lisa's husband Chris helped three children from the class plant tomatoes. One measured exactly 12 inches from the neighboring plant; one dug the hole; another shoveled compost into the hole. Chris held out a young, stocky tomato seedling.

"I'm going to plant most of this plant's stem underground," he explained, "because roots will form along the stem and the plant will have a healthier, more extensive root system."

That sounded good to his audience - who were ready to get on with the job at hand. That included planting two dozen tomato and pepper plants. And checking on the pole beans, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce, basil and other crops growing in the 30-inch raised beds that they had etched into the sandy soil.

At the Friends Emergency Shelter, the produce is welcome. The shelter houses six families at a time. The produce is put out for the families to use. "The new potatoes went like hotcakes," said Mike Reilly of the program. "These families don't have permanent housing, much less garden space, so garden-fresh produce is a wonderful thing for them to have access to."

Last year, the garden's first, the shelter received 200 pounds of vegetables. This year, Lisa expects to bring a lot more than that.

This summer, she and her husband plan to work at the garden three mornings a week. Plus, she's invited the entire school community - including over 500 students (almost all of whom can walk to school) - to come down and help.

None of the kids in the school live on farms and only a few have gardens at home. "People are busy, and it's easier I guess to go to the grocery store," Lisa said. "This garden gives them a way to learn about plants first hand."

While school is in session, Lisa's class uses the garden for science experiments. They measured the germination rates for the bean seeds. In the fall, the potatoes will be meticulously gathered and weighed to measure how different watering and planting techniques effected harvest. And after the measuring is done? Time for a potato fry. Last year, the fifth grade class cooked the potatoes with a group of second graders.

Gardener's Supply has long been a supporter of school gardening programs. Over the years, we've donated more than $100,000 of products to the National Gardening Association's Youth Garden Grant Program. We believe cultivating the next generation of gardeners yields big rewards.

So does Lisa Burton. "I love to garden and I don't have space at home," she said. "With this garden I can indulge my passion, teach kids about the joys of gardening, and create a valuable community asset that can help people."

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