In August of 2009, kindergarteners and first graders at Stripling Elementary School in Norcross, GA started a gardening and recycling club, as part of an afterschool enrichment program at their school. Merle Soodyall, a music specialist at Stripling, leads the same group of 12 students for one week's time before the kids rotate to another special area club (such as nutrition, or the "Kids Kitchen" cooking club). When they rotate back into the garden once again, the kids get to enjoy the plants' progress and the shared efforts of their classmates. Teachers find natural synergies between these areas of focus - and the kids do, too. In the summer, Kids Kitchen participants made fresh lemonade for the gardeners at work in the busy garden!
School cafeteria manager Kathryn Touat, her sons and their friends worked alongside local high school students and Ms. Jenkins' summer school math camp to build raised beds. The beds were specially designed to resist the heavy floods that invade Georgia during the growing season. Kathryn called the Gwinnett county extension office for help, and was directed to Linda Edwards and Julie Foster with Gardens by Design, LLC. Linda and Julie visited Stripling and gave them a free professional landscape design!
The beds stood up to severe weather conditions beautifully, and all the plants survived.This was smart planning, as a garden planted directly in the ground would never have been able to resist the floods.
I n Georgia, the summer vacation is during June and July. In June, the cafeteria purchased the hardscape materials (wood, brackets, soil, fertilizer, benches, planters, hose and sprinkler). In August, Downey Trees, Inc donated all the hardwood mulch. When students returned to school, they planted strawberries and tomatoes in the newly built raised beds. Plantings were purchased using the Box Tops for Education funds. When butterfly larvae spread across the leaves, causing damage to the plants, the club used the hand-picking method and homemade paprika spray to preserve their plants. As the cooler season approached in October, the club planted vegetables from the Brassica family, including broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and 2 varities of cabbage. Kids are also enjoying their herb garden, which features thyme, rosemary, mint and cilantro.
The Stripling Gardening Club takes time to discuss their garden observations. "The kids notice that the vegetables they grow don't look like what is found in the store," commented club leader Merle Soodyall. "The shapes are not perfect, and there may be some discoloring. This is good for the kids to see, as they understand that the store produce was likely not grown naturally, as opposed to their own fruits and vegetables." Merle also recognized the gardening know-how and volunteer efforts of school community members to be very important to the garden's success, noting that family members donated used garden gloves and tools to the efforts, and local senior citizens offered tips and suggestions for growing a healthy garden.
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