We hope that most folks understand where our food comes from, and appreciate the farmers who grow our food, and the long chain of individuals responsible for harvesting crops and livestock, processing food, and getting food to market.
What many folks may not appreciate is the science of food and how studying food can spread across the curriculum at any age.
That’s the concept behind a second grade project underway at Big Walnut Elementary School. Teachers have partnered with the Franklin Park Conservatory in a pilot program where students plant cold-weather produce like Broccoli, lettuce, beets, and radishes as a life science project, and then tie the project into many other aspects of the second grade curriculum.
The project includes a raised bed garden with a plastic cover behind Big Walnut Elementary. There students from the second grade classes of Becky Sliva and Beth Zirillo, and third grade teacher Kelsie Zak, planted the cold-weather produce to get the project growing.
“BWE Instructional Facilitator Susan Monfort and I attended Project Green Teacher at the Ohio State University 4-H Extension,” Sliva said. “That’s a program for teachers and parents, basically anyone working with children who want to start a garden for learning purposes.”
Sliva said Project Green Teacher got the BWE staff connected with Slow Food USA, an international organization that has a Columbus chapter. Slow Food’s goal is to inspire individuals and communities to change the world through food that is nutritionally good, environmentally clean, and fairly raised and traded.
“We got a grant from Slow Food USA that provided our project’s lessons and the raised beds,” Sliva said. “We went to a workshop to showed how to build the raised beds and Susan and I put it together.”
Sliva said members of the BWE PTO helped pay for some of the material costs, and Delaware County Soil & Water Conservation District Conservation Educator Donna Rhea got involved, providing a soil donation from the conservation district.
That’s how the project began, Sliva said, but then the teaching aspects got underway. Sliva said the teachers had been talking with the students about the project for a month before planting began, so they were ready for their first day with their hands in the soil when each student planted seeds in the raised beds.
“The students began with classroom lessons and discussions about food science,” Sliva said. “As the project moved forward they did journaling; there’s an art aspect to their journals; there’s math and graph making; and the outdoor end of the project is physical activity for physical education – there was even brainstorming about how outdoor sounds could be used for music ideas.”
Sliva said a lot of school gardens fail because they’re not sustainable over summer months when school is no longer in session. That’s why the BWE garden uses cold-weather plants that students are able to harvest before the end of the school year.
“We planned the garden so we could take care of it in the winter and spring months when the temperature is just warm enough for the plants we used,” Sliva said. “The students check the soil and the air temperature inside the tunnel and log their findings in journals so they can track the garden; and hopefully they will have produce by May before school is out so we can harvest and do a taste test.”
Sliva said the students have had a great time during the outdoor soil lessons, going into it as inquiry-based science, then returning to the classroom for a journaling session.
“We’re hoping that other BWE classes can go out and use the garden as a learning lesson as well,” Sliva said. “We would like to see this expand to a raised bed for each grade level. There’s so much emphasis on rapid technology these days. We’ve forgotten that you have to be patient for some things – like growing food. I’m excited to see what happens as the students watch this garden mature.”
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093.