All 16 campuses within Conway Public Schools are now equipped to teach through garden initiatives.
The district announced Tuesday that the last school, Woodrow Cummins Elementary, had a garden that students and teachers would work on together.
The school gardens are a part of a larger Farm-To-School Initiative that Conway has worked to bring to the district for the past several years. In November 2015, the district was awarded a $44,000 USDA grant, which gave them the ability to develop and build the gardens in all but three schools, with the goal of equipping all schools eventually.
“The [Farm-To-School] program enriches the lives of our students by promoting healthy eating and enhancing classroom education through hands-on learning,” Sharon Burgess, food services supervisor for the Conway School District, said in a news release.
According to the release, Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway helped to bring the rest of the gardens to the schools through a donation needed to build raised beds at Julia Lee Moore Elementary School, Jim Stone Elementary School and Woodrow Cummins. Baptist Health also donated 16 wheel barrels.
Liz Kimble, a teacher at Woodrow, said they built the beds during spring break and the following week they planted the seed in the first bed. After a second round of cold temperatures passed, they were able to continuing planting the seeds and worked on the second bed.
“Our students have loved getting to be a part of this garden,” she said. “They have learned to become responsible caretakers.”
Kimble said the students spread the potting soil and watered both gardens daily.
“We haven’t had many weeds but our students have had to remove mushrooms from the beds,” she said.
So far, Kimble said, the garden has produced strawberries, radishes, Swiss chards, Brussels sprouts, wild rocket speedy, lettuce, broccoli and Calendula flowers to attract bees.
She said the most exciting part has been getting to watch the students and their excitement about watching the food grow and the garden develop.
“Seeing them take responsibility for the garden makes us proud,” Kimble said. “They know that they are growing food that is healthy for their bodies.”
Some of the vegetables, she said, are ready now, and several student helpers have already had the opportunity to pick radishes. Kimble said they are expecting to have more radishes and hopefully lettuce within the next week.
“We have a couple crops that will be ready to harvest [in] the summer and several that will not be ready until next fall,” she said. “We are currently in the process of planting sweet potatoes that will also be ready next fall.”
The garden, Kimble said, is a great opportunity for students to connect to nature.
“It engages inquiry and meaningful questions among students and teachers,” she said. “Our students are learning that gardening is hard work. The students have learned the importance of seed spacing, planting and continuous watering.”
Kimble said they recently learned how important it was to harvest the crops.
“Our students are learning that they need to have a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables to be at their best each and every day,” she said. “Our gardens have been a powerful tool in educating our students on making healthy food choices.”
Everyone at Woodrow Cummins, Kimble said, is grateful for Baptist’s involvement in helping to provide them an educational opportunity.
”Baptist Health is committed to a healthier Arkansas and we take the responsibility of serving the health needs of the Conway community seriously,” Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells said in a news release. “Being healthy starts with being educated and these gardens and wheel barrels will allow these students to learn in a fun and active way to make healthy eating choices.”
The school plans to form a garden club by next fall to continue to grow the garden.