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published: Friday, May 04, 2012
Making their garden grow
Making their garden grow
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
Before spring break in March, more than 130 students in two third-grade classes at Minneola Elementary School planted all sorts of fruits and vegetables in a garden.
"It's like a farming experience I've really loved," Hunter Tierman, 9, said.
The goal is to not only provide hands-on learning about the growing process but to get students more interested in trying new foods and making healthy food choices.
A second garden that doesn't use soil, called a hydroponic garden, has also been started.
A huge area in the soil-based garden is dedicated to green beans, and the garden also holds tomatoes, three varieties of lettuce, cucumbers and strawberries.
The hydroponics garden has cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and two types of lettuce.
According to third-grade teachers Mindy Giallella and Candace Gallmeyer and volunteer Jennifer Caponi -- a former Minneola Elementary teacher -- students are getting excited about the variety of healthy choices and resources available to them.
"I want to educate the kids on all the healthy choices out there available to them," Caponi said. "I think it's important since nowadays parents may be a little busier with working and maybe working when they didn't have to before. The gardens are a good platform for this. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have the kids be able to grow and eat their own food?'"
Giallella said when the students started with the project, many had never been exposed to some of the vegetables. A few students had neither seen nor tasted strawberries, she said.
Now, however, not only can the students name every fruit, vegetable, plant or process in the garden, but when asked, any one of them can also rattle off the differences between the hydroponic garden and the soil-based garden, and summarize how the hydroponic garden works.
"There is no soil but it's actually the transnutrients in the water and the electricity that make the vegetables and other things grow," Tierman said. "It's very interesting actually."
Caponi said another benefit of hydroponic gardening is no weeds.
"I was surprised at how good the lettuces have been and even more surprised to learn that vegetables could be grown using no soil in the Hydroponics tower," Tierman said.
Violet Hewett, 9, said she like the green beans and Connor Lackey, 9, said he likes the cucumbers, stating afterwards, that he'd never tasted cucumbers outside of school before this.
Giallella said the students are also excited because since it's their project, they have done all the work and seen it through from the start.
That means that the students have together, hauled 880 pounds of soil into the garden, tilled it, planted seeds, released lady bugs and praying mantises to control insects and picked the harvest.
She also believes the "hands-on" learning experience is something they'll never forget.
"This project has really taught the kids to work well together and most of all, I truly believe that for kids to experience learning, rather than reading it in books or hearing about it, adds a different dimension," Giallella said. "This is turning out to be a "hands-on" learning experience I don't think they'll never forget.
Gallmyer said it's also helped to really get some students "out of their shells."
Still, with all that the Minneola Elementary's students have learned and done, knowledge is still in the beginning stages, since this is the very first year they've delved into such a project.
Other schools however -- including Clermont and Leesburg Elementary Schools -- also have gardening programs for their students.
Giallella said Clermont Elementary's Jennifer Lykins, who leads the gardening program there, has served as a mentor for her first attempt at gardening at the Minneola School. Leesburg Elementary was just recognized last week by the Florida Wildlife Federation as the winner in the Florida Wildlife Federation's 3rd Kid's Habitat Contest for six kinds of garden habitats more than 300 students from kindergarten to fifth grade have been involved in.
Science enrichment teacher Lesa Roe heads the projects, and besides a butterfly garden, pond habitat, bog garden, wildflower garden, Florida woodland native habitat garden and Florida native wildlife habitat, they also have a 1,000 vegetable plant hydroponic garden stackable system on campus used for growing lettuce, spinach, green beans, onions, tomatoes, peppers and a variety of herbs.
In Leesburg, the garden projects are in their third year and thriving and students involved with them are beaming with pride, Roe said.
When class is over and students working the garden come inside and are dripping with sweat, they are like "Thank you, that was so much fun. That says a lot," Roe said, adding that the garden's success is a direct reflection of every student's enthusiasm and pride in the project itself.
"They absolutely love it. They own these garden and the gardens have helped develop their sense of success," Roe said.
In addition, the students in Leesburg are also gaining business savvy since some of the vegetables they harvest are being sold to parents and faculty.
Proceeds go toward additional seeds, fertilizer and gardening supplies.
All the teachers involved said the gardening projects incorporate many hidden lessons in math and science.
Both school's projects were started by grant funding and other donations.