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School Garden Provides a Menu of Life Lessons

The school year is winding down, and many students are cramming for end of year tests.   Some are also putting their green thumbs to work in the school garden where spring planting season is in full swing.

It’s just about noon on a warm sunny Tuesday afternoon. The sound of shovels clanking and a steady stream of chatter echo through the garden at Hall Fletcher Elementary school in Asheville.   

A 5th grade class is spread out in small groups, some hauling dirt, others getting ready to plant.

“Half of the section is tomatoes” says Caleb Workman, who is standing in the middle of the pizza garden, “and this section is the pizza plants, where there are different things for pizza.”

Caleb and many of his classmates are old hands here in the school garden, thanks in part to the non-profit FEAST program.  The organization reaches around 15-hundred students every year with hands-on gardening and cooking programs. Cathy Cleary is a co-founder

“Combining garden education with cooking education is really awesome because the kids see whole process from start to finish.  It m makes them appreciate it so much more. When they have a hand in creating this food from a seed to their plate, they are so much more likely to taste it and try something new.”   

“I really like how farm to table has been spun into farm to school”  says  Janette Broda , Nutrition Director at Asheville City Schools.    Broda says the hands on food experience increases the chance a student will incorporate a new food into their diet,  peer-to-peer influence also plays a role.   

Asheville City School Nutrition Director Janette Broda says students reap many health benefits from a hands-on garden program.

“So if you are gardening and eating kale with your friends?"

" It’s cool, kale is cool then.” says  Broda. 

Back in the garden, Gabriella Miller is mixing coffee grounds into the dirt.

“I like how you can get your hands in and all dirty and but at the same time you can see life in the dirt.  What kind of life can you see in there? Worms, roly polys, grubs and some ants.”

Madeline Peck is an AmeriCorps volunteer who works with the FEAST program and says there are so many lessons woven into this class.

“It incorporates science, math, figuring out how much space plants need, social studies,  cooking – cross curriculum.  Often kids don’t get enough time to be outside and get their hands dirty.  I also feel like it builds confidence, being able to see how manual labor is a different kind of product and at the end, to say, look what I did!  It’s so cool” says Peck.

Soon the hour is up and the class is back inside for a cool down and a recap with FEAST garden educator Summer Whelden , who says some of the most valuable garden lessons, may not be about the garden at all.

“I had a little girl who spent recess with me on her her birthday and said that was the thing she wanted to do,' says Whelden. "I wasn’t always her favorite teacher and she wasn’t always the student who loved gardening.  There is a therapeutic aspect to gardening and I think we don’t always see that until we there and digging in the soil,  and that’s an opportunity to really connect with each other.

From the garden at Hall Fletcher Elementary in Asheville, I’m Helen Chickering, BPR News

Click FEAST to learn more about the nonprofit garden program.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.