Sudduth Elementary School teacher Isabelle McLemore, far right, talks to first-graders about the spinach and lettuce they just planted in the Starkville school's SEED Garden Friday. Children, from left, are Nolan Langston, Justin Chung, Cooper Raines, Kaden Sharp, Aubrey Jones and Zoe Ellis. Nolan's parents are Tyson Langston and Natalie Morgan. Justin's parents are Wenchun Chung and Iwei Chu. Cooper is the son of Michael and Samantha Raines. Kaden's parents are Jesse Sharp and Shammara Simpson. Aubrey is the daughter of Lionel Jones and LaShonna Jones. Zoe's parents are Quentin and Tracy Ellis. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
Oktibbeha County Master Gardener June Schmidt - Garden Granny - teaches kindergartners at Starkville's Sudduth Elementary School Oct. 3 about five things plants need: seed, soil, sun, water and wind. "The tan sheet is the soil; the children are the seeds. I'm watering them with a mister," Schmidt said.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
October 10, 2018 10:39:28 AM
If you've never caught sight of a garden fairy, some of the children at Sudduth Elementary School in Starkville might tell you what they look like. They can have carrot legs, arms made of sugar snap pea pods, a cauliflower head and spinach leaves for wings. And with a little ranch dressing, they're quite tasty. It's just one way the SEED Garden project -- Sudduth Elementary Exploration and Discovery Garden -- is teaching kindergartners and first-graders that food doesn't just magically appear. Children are learning those lessons from Garden Granny and other Oktibbeha County Master Gardener volunteers.
"We have 10 classes participating, about 230 children, and five master gardeners who teach the classes," explained Garden Granny June Schmidt. "We really like to concentrate on where our food comes from, and for the children to have hands-on experiences growing foods and tasting different things."
The SEED Garden was first established years ago by the Starkville Parent Teacher Organization and Oktibbeha Master Gardeners to help teach about nutrition, science, environmental awareness and home gardening. The efforts of people including Dan and Rita Jackson, Dylan Karges, Starkville Kiwanis, students at Mississippi State, Town & Country Garden Club and many others have helped it become the resource it is today.
"I think it's important for kids to grow things," said Sudduth first-grade teacher Isabelle McLemore. Her husband is a produce farmer. "It teaches them science at an early age and connects it to a real life situation, so that when they go to the grocery store, they know where their food comes from, and they think about growing and eating food more in season."
What's in the garden?
In the SEED Garden's raised beds, corn, tomatoes and other spring and summer produce have given way to fresh plantings of spinach, lettuce, turnips, beets, radishes, Swiss chard, broccoli and other foods suited to the season.
"Some of the kids have never seen some of those things. Last week, we had one class taste beets, and then plant beets. One class tasted rutabaga, and then planted seeds," Schmidt said, noting that a bit of ranch dressing on almost anything can tempt even reluctant tasters.
First-grader Persephone Kelley said, "We got to plant a beet, and we got to eat beets. It was yummy."
McLemore remarked, "A lot of kids this age aren't going to eat some things like spinach, but since they're growing it, they're going to take a little more pride in it, and at least try it."
The lessons seem to be getting through. First-grader Rashad Jones said, "I know that plants need soil, wind, sun and water; (the Garden Granny) sprayed us with water like we were plants!"
Even with winter in the offing, learning doesn't come to a halt. Lessons on seeds, bark, evergreens, mistletoe and "What Can You See When the Leaves Are Gone?" come to the forefront.
"Not only is it about how food grows, but we like for the children to explore the outdoors," said Schmidt.
And the kids' reaction to all of it?
"They get absolutely excited," said first-grade teacher Sara Gill. "They cannot wait for when the Garden Granny comes; they all want to tell her what they've learned."
The SEED Garden provides a different learning environment, showing children that they can learn wherever they are, Gill added.
"It allows children to make that real-world connection between what they're seeing in books and reading lessons, even math lessons, to the things around their world. That encourages them to continue to explore their world."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.