Commerce Elementary Vegetable Garden Continues To GrowWed 09 Nov 2011
Story by Kimberlee Murray
Listening to kids talking to each other about eating Swiss chard for the first time or watching a curious first grader pluck a carrot from the ground, rinse it off and start munching away, was the most exciting part of the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. (Parents Informing Commerce Kids About Eating Decisions) garden’s first season. Hearing the elementary students say, “Mmmmm…this tastes really good!” was all the proof the Commerce Elementary group of parents needed to ensure their garden was doing its job.
The idea to build an elementary school vegetable garden came fast. Spring was a busy time of building beds, planting, mulching, pruning, and presenting the garden. A community-wide garden unveiling kicked off the season with Commerce Elementary families coming out on a Sunday afternoon to see the garden, make family garden stones, and plant seeds to start their own home gardens.
Curiosity lured students to the garden during recess where many helped to water, pull weeds and lay mulch. When the recess bell rang and the school doors flung open, several kids headed straight for the garden wondering in what ways they could get their hands dirty, literally. Many students returned to their classrooms with dirt inches thick on their knees and huge smiles on their faces.
Kindergartners planted sunflower seeds indoors and transplanted those seeds when the ground thawed. They were in awe watching their sunflowers grow to almost six feet tall at summer’s end. First graders helped plant potatoes, lettuce and morning glories - also started inside and transplanted during optimal ground conditions. Second graders helped spread donated mulch and compost and also started their own compost pile. Fourth graders planted cucumbers inside and transplanted the seeds along the garden’s fence. The garden committee planted Swiss chard, spinach, kale, mustard greens, tomatoes, tomatillos, green beans, carrots, basil, parsley, chives and ground cherries.
First bites of ground cherries (tastes like a mix between a tomato and pineapple) elicited either a “love it” or “hate it” response. Few people were on the fence about the taste of ground cherries, but kale was a surprising taste-test winner. Some committee members took kale Chips into the classrooms where the kids devoured the crunchy, vitamin-packed vegetable. The garden committee also offered tastes of Swiss chard, kale, spinach and radish at the end of school-year field day activities.
The community support for the garden was in high-gear. The Long family farm donated straw to use as mulch as well as tools needed to install a garden fence. Dawn Bause, a local chef and owner of Cooking With Dawn, joined the garden unveiling and raffled off a 2-hour cooking adventure for three lucky elementary students. The West Bloomfield, Michigan Whole Foods store donated a picnic table for use as an outdoor classroom. Chiropractors, Pediatricians, photographers and other grocers offered monetary donations or services. Also Commerce Elementary families donated supplies, money or hours of valuable volunteering time.
Over the summer months, families met in the garden during “Harvest Days” and picked whatever fresh produce was available. Those same families came out to help with whatever garden maintenance was needed had helped with an end-of-summer clean up to prepare for the start of the school year.
The Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team participated in Commerce Elementary’s “Welcome Back Picnic” by offering vegetable kabobs highlighting some of the garden’s summer bounty. The students were intrigued by the tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers on display. Many tried the kabobs simply because the veggies were being served on a stick, but either way the kabobs disappeared.
Members of the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. committee met with Janet Allen, Walled Lake Consolidated School’s Food Services Supervisor, to discuss how their garden could impact the school lunch system. Mrs. Allen is currently implementing a rotating salad bar this year in the district’s 14 elementary schools and the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team jumped at the chance to provide the lettuce for their own school’s salad bar day.
Once the team learns how much lettuce is needed for a one-day salad bar offering, they will begin planning measures to make sure they have enough to serve lettuce direct from the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. garden. Other food service partnership ideas are in the works.
Current school-year plans include classroom projects like:
• Compost bin
• Hoop-house construction, and
• Rain-barrel placement.
The Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team also plans to expand the garden as space, time, and money permits.
The positive response from students, teachers and the community has been overwhelming. The garden’s successful first season is directly related to an insatiable curiosity about where food comes from and how it’s grown. Thanks to the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team, Commerce Elementary students and families can feed that curiosity right in their own backyard.
About the author: Kimberlee Murray is a writer and part of the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team at Commerce Elementary in Commerce Twp., Michigan. Visit the group’s website here.
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