- Associated Press - Monday, October 23, 2017

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - On some afternoons, Layla Sanders, a fourth-grader at the Jonesboro Health, Wellness and Environmental Studies magnet school, goes to a garden on the school grounds and picks vegetables and herbs.

“I love picking the herbs,” Layla said. “I really like the oregano we have and getting to watch it grow.”

Layla is a member of Melinda Smith’s class who takes care of the garden. Smith, the science coordinator at HWES, said the program helps give students a better appreciation for what they eat.

“I’ve noticed over time that the students are more willing to try a radish if they have watched it grow and plucked it from the garden,” Smith told the Jonesboro Sun . “I think gardening gives them a since of ownership and pride in what they’ve done, and maybe that makes it more appetizing to eat something they worked for.”

HWES has three gardens, and they are currently working with the harvest-centered garden, Smith said. They are growing lettuce, radishes, asparagus, herbs and flowers.

Once the students have harvested their crops, they go to their kitchen to learn how to prepare healthy meals with them.

“We use our nutrition lab to teach kids how the food they eat is grown and prepared to be eaten,” Smith said. “We had some students from the Arkansas State University Dietetics Department come and do a workshop with the kids on how to make healthy food.”

The work in the garden begins when the seeds are planted. There are three small greenhouses outside so the class can continue to grow food throughout the year, and the Craighead County Master Gardeners help the students with gardening techniques and events like Grandparents Day in the Garden.

The school is now putting a bigger focus on the garden as part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Arkansas Farm to School Month proclamation. The October program asks teachers to gear lessons and cafeteria workers to implement lessons around farms and food.

“Farm to School Programs connect Arkansas’ early care and education programs and K-12 schools to local farms with the goal of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias to improve student nutrition and provide educational opportunities related to agriculture, health, nutrition, and science,” Hutchinson said in a press release.

The garden program at HWES also helps in several other subjects besides science, Smith said.

“Even though we are in a rural area, kids are living in areas that may not have farms or gardens, and they might not know about how they work,” Smith said. “They need to know where our food comes from so they can eat and live healthier lives. It is cross-curricular, from social science to math to reading and writing. It is hands-on learning. The kids are able to see veins of the leafs under microscopes. I see kids measuring our flowerbeds and writing down their observations. It becomes a living textbook instead of memorization.”


Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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