Departmental Spotlight – GIFT Gardens
This spring with the support of Alachua County CHOICES, Florida Organic Growers installed a teaching garden at the Waldo Community School. The garden, which contains 3 raised-bed vegetable gardens and a small butterfly garden, can provide organic herbs and vegetables all year long. This teaching garden is one of approximately 250 GIFT Gardens FOG has installed throughout Alachua County. Another of our GIFT garden installations can be found at the Woodland Park Boys and Girls club, where FOG installed 10 raised bed teaching gardens last year also with the help of CHOICES and in honor of Food Day.
“We’re trying to give people an opportunity to learn to grow fruits and vegetables,” said Steven Pokorny, director of CHOICES. “Ideally to increase the servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet.”
The Waldo Community School teaching garden and the Woodland Park Boys and Girls Club teaching garden were both chosen as sites for our CHOICES-sponsored spring gardening classes. During the 16 week course, students in both locations were able to watch crops grow from seed to harvest. FOG collaborated with the Eat Up Program to educate students on a variety of organic gardening principles using lesson plans from the “Gardening for Grades” curricula. This curriculum was released in 2010 by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom and meets Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in a wide variety of disciplines from Language Arts to Science. Benchmarks included identifying the parts of plants, awareness of plant feeding schedules for proper growth, identification of edible plants, and awareness of food origins. All lessons included core ideas like photosynthesis, soil structure, nutrition, and biodiversity. Learning synthesis was achieved through the following hands-on activities: a leaf scavenger hunt, nature exploration, garden care, and collecting pine leaves for mulch.
For the first several classes in February at the Waldo Community School, the students focused on building the garden and planting the beds. Several rows of potted plants were also planted so students could take a vegetable plant home with them for the summer if they wished.
March was a busy month in the garden. Since everything in the two beds was planted and growing fast, we had plenty tomato pruning to do, mulch to lay, and a need to constantly water. With an eye toward expansion, the students started additional seedlings that they either took home or are saving to be added to garden. In order to learn about the vast biodiversity around us and the life cycles of plants, we read Eric Lyle’s book “The Tiny Seed”. We then went on a seed scavenger hunt. We also explored the origins of different plants that we eat. As a hands-on way to cement our new knowledge, we played a game of four corners with plants and their continent of origin.
The garden lessons in April were all science-based and focused on biodiversity. Students engaged in a leaf scavenger hunt among the vegetables and underneath the surrounding trees. They were asked to find leaves that smelled good, leaves that smelled bad, large leaves, spiny leaves, and leaves that we would eat. The scavenger hunt was paired with a worksheet where students were asked to label different parts of the plants, and then describe the biological purpose. The second half of the worksheet had the more advanced terms chlorophyll, photosynthesis, sugar, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. These terms were new to most of the students and the section acted as a pre-test. To connect the biology of plants to the vegetables we eat, the students played a game involving common vegetables and naming the part of the plant that vegetable is.
We also installed a new garden bed and planted it with radishes, which are a quick growing crop. We then held a radish race where the students measured their radishes to see which could grow the largest.
To teach photosynthesis, students were asked to complete several worksheets and coloring sheets about photosynthesis while we discussed its process and role in plant growth. This was paired with a game where students acted out photosynthesis being either water or carbon dioxide, pairing up and then becoming either oxygen or sugar.
In May we continued to focus on teaching the science behind all the growing that was happening in the garden. Students completed the same worksheet focusing on photosynthesis and the parts of the plant that they were given earlier in the spring and the results were quite striking. The first time the class completed the worksheet the average score was 3.45 correct answers out of ten, with the median and mode scores both 3. A month and half later the class averaged 8.32 correct answers out of ten, with a median score of 8 and mode score of 10. To demonstrate how plants gather resources, the students played a game where each had to stand on a paper plate and then brown, blue, and yellow cards were spread around them representing nutrients in the soil, water, and sun light. Then without moving their feet off the plates the students had to grab as many of each card as they could and those who couldn’t reach one of each had to explain what they were missing and how it would prevent plant growth.
We were also blessed with the beginnings of abundant harvests, and the students were able to harvest tomatoes, red asparagus beans, radishes and eggplant to take home. To prepare the gardens for the summer they were planted with sweet potatoes. We also added a small wildflower section to attract butterflies and other pollinators.
The spring gardening classes at the Woodland Park Boys and Girls club also covered a variety of organic gardening principles. We began by planting most of the beds with spring crops like beans, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and squash. With everything growing fast we had plenty of tomato pruning to do and insects to chase away. By the end of the March we were able to harvest sugar snap peas and the last of the broccoli. In April we were able to harvest some more sugar snap peas, along with strawberries and growing clusters of green tomatoes. Despite the unusually warm spring, the sugar snap peas were delicious, sweet, and crisp. We estimate that between the two patches, 15 pounds of peas were produced in March and April. In May we were also blessed with the beginnings of abundant harvests, and on the final day of classes the students were able to harvest tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, green peppers and eggplant to take home. We estimate the between $200 and $300 worth of produce was harvested from the garden during our spring gardening classes. More will available to harvest by the students at the Boys and Girls club and the surrounding community throughout the summer.
For more information about GIFT Gardens or our gardening classes for youth, please contact Travis Mitchell.