~ guest post by Bobbi Kleinschmidt
The excitement my kids show at watching their own seeds sprout in our family garden makes me wish everyone could experience the miracle of growth and understanding food, especially after seeing how little others know about where their food comes from. A child asked, “What is this?” I said, “It’s a nectarine. Try it you’ll like it.” She did and another girl asked if she could have one. I almost ran to get the fruit, but kept my composure. “What is that sticking out of the ground,” questioned a lady visiting my parent’s garden. “That is an onion,” my mom said, giving name to the bright green shoot. “I didn’t know they grew that way,” responded the lady. My farm family was shocked but not surprised.
“I want to create a learning garden,” I said at the PTO meeting.The questions started coming. Why? What purpose would it serve? Who will take care of it if you leave? Don’t we have a something similar? I was happy that people were interested enough to ask questions and even happier to answer.
Living in Iowa, one of the largest agricultural states, does not mean everyone knows about agriculture, even on a smaller scale such as home garden; there aren’t very many in my suburbia world. Creating a learning garden is one way I can give back and provide children a better understanding of agriculture.
The space I want to use is a beautiful square piece of land adjacent to the playground and bordered by classrooms on three sides. There is minimal landscaping and enormous potential. I see the most potential in the kids, not the piece of land.
For me, a learning garden in an elementary school setting seems like second nature, pun intended. A garden is nature at its finest. A garden incorporates soil science, botany, entomology, water cycles, and food systems. Tools to educate can include a compost bin, planting party, textural and sensory garden, rainbow garden, pizza or salsa garden – sounds delicious, garden for pollinating insects, and growing worms to release in the soil. I could go on but I’ll stop.
I realize not everyone has a green thumb or time or resources to commit to and plant a garden. That’s the beauty of learning garden; we can reach hundreds of kids. Within this garden is a promise to educate students beyond the normal classroom. A garden gives educators a different way to teach, a hands on approach beyond what a picture and words in a book can convey. A garden provides the opportunity to see how the earth presents us with gifts and how we can foster life through positive interactions with the soil, insects, water, and plants that make up our ecosystem.
Cornell University discovered that learning gardens can increase a student’s self-esteem, understanding of nutrition and where food comes from, nonverbal communication skills in children with learning disabilities, and positive attitudes about the environment. Students who participate in learning gardens score higher on science tests. The list grows as studies consistently report the benefits between children and gardening.
I am in the research phase and asking teachers which garden projects are most appropriate for curriculum. I am excited about the support of the school and our PTO. I will offer opportunities to local Eagle Scouts, garden clubs, organizations, parents, friends and my own children. I may just start an after school gardening club. The options are endless and I think the community will like it. What I do know is that this is my chance to share a little piece of my heaven on our earth – and help people learn where food comes from.
Bobbi Kleinschmidt earned a bachelor of science in agronomy and a master of arts in communication from Purdue University. She is a freelance writer and public relations and marketing consultant. Bobbi writes and consults on various projects yet feels the responsibility to express her love of the country and the importance of all things agriculture. She says “Living in the suburbs of Iowa is nice, but moving back to the country is the dream.”