Mary Pat Roberts said one of the main goals of her family and consumer science class is to get her Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School students to eat more vegetables.
“More of a variety, different colors, that is my big focus for eighth grade FACS,” she said. “Using different vegetables in different ways.”
This school year, thanks to a partnership with science teacher Morgan Olson, Roberts has a new way to introduce veggies to her students: Grow them right in the school courtyard.
This fall, Roberts’ FACS class made a spaghetti sauce with tomatoes, onions, peppers and carrots grown on school grounds. It was the first yield from a project that began two summers ago, when a member of the school board approached Olson about a school garden.
The school received grants from the Statewide Health Improvement Program and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Education Foundation to get started. Two summers ago, Olson said a group of school staff spent a few days building a greenhouse in the courtyard. Last school year, some of Olson’s science students worked to make gravel pathways leading to growing boxes.
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And last spring, Olson’s classes planted carrots, cabbage, onions, lettuce, kale, red peppers and sweet bell peppers. By the time this school year started, a full, blooming garden was ready for Roberts’ classes.
“I love food labs and the joy of cooking,” Roberts said. “And having our own produce to do it is 1,000 times better.”
That appears to have sunk in with students, a group of whom said last week they noticed the difference in taste between the sauce they made and store-bought sauce.
“It’s important to get natural food, instead of all the processed food, and to cook with that,” said eighth-grader Taylor DeLong.
And it wasn’t just the food preparation end of the project that was a valuable teaching tool, Olson said.
“What I think is great is it’s a whole process,” he said. “It’s a tiny little seed and it seems insignificant. But if you set it in the soil and give it what it needs, it grows and develops into something amazing.”
Olson said some of the carrots grew “as big as your arm.”
“It doesn’t seem like a big thing to pull a carrot out of the ground,” he said. “But when you reach down and wiggle it and it pops up and it’s a huge, beautiful carrot, you feel successful. If you’ve planted it yourself, it just is more meaningful.”
The school has received another grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Program in order to continue and expand the project. Olson said he will be adding five more growing boxes to the courtyard, bringing the total to 12. Students will plant blueberries in the spring, and will grow produce in the greenhouse over the winter.
Olson and Roberts hope the garden will continue to help students understand the value of locally-produced food.
“A lot of times we talk about these things at school and we don’t really have an opportunity to follow through,” Olson said. “But the garden really is an ongoing experiment.
“With edible results.”
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