The School: Smithville Elementary School. Smithville, Texas
Getting started: Though Smithville Elementary, a public school, didn’t have any designated funds for a school garden, principal Ana Murray and the district’s child nutrition director. Candy Biehle, were determined. “We’re focused on health issues like nutrition and exercise, and also the environment , so this was a natural progression for us,” Murray says. People in the community donated supplies, like cinder blocks for raised beds; a local nursery offered a discount on soil and plants.
The first garden:
With the garden in place, Murray decided to invite fifth graders–the oldest kids int eh school–to get involved. The first class of 20 “Junior Harvesters” quickly filled up with volunteers. Once a week, beginning last January, the kids met in small groups to plant, weed and water. Led by teacher Marie Medrano, a master naturalist, they grew herbs, including cilantro, rosemary, and sage. By March, they were harvesting–and sharing the bounty with the school cafeteria. At the end of the semester, they held a parent open house and tastings for kids in other grades.
Last spring’s garden was so successful that other students were eager to take part. Murray created an application, which takes into account kids’ grades, their overall attitude, and discipline-and there are typically twice as many applications as spots. In addition to herbs, kids are now planting vegetables, and they use compost from the cafeteria to enrich the soil.
Depending on what’s in season, the garden supplies about half the items on the cafeteria salad bar, and about 75 percent of the herbs and greens are very expensive ,” says Biehle. “It also gives the cafeteria staff an opportunity to be creative an add to weekly meals. The garden has been a positive experience for everyone.”
What the kids think:
Students like Ivette Ramos, 11, have gained firsthand understanding of nature, hard work, and the cycle of life. Last fall , wildfires across Texas forced the school to close, and the Ramos family lost their home Still Ivette was focused on going back to school to find out if she was chosen to be a Junior Harvester–and she was.
Ivette says the best thing about the garden is “putting your hands in the soil and being outside with your friends. The first time we harvested vegetables, I felt joyful because I was holding life that I helped grow.” Her mom. Delma, says so much of the land around them was charred by fire that the family now makes it a point to go out and look at the little green plants sprouting in their yard as the earth recovers. “We have a new respect for the resilience of nature,” says Delma.