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Students cultivate their own green thumbs

Sardis Elementary School second-graders learn to grow, harvest vegetables

POSTED: September 20, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Plunging a shovel into loosened dirt, pulling back on the handle and watching a large redish-brown sweet potato pop out of the ground elated 8-year-old Franky Perez.

The Sardis Elementary School second-grader grinned from ear-to-ear as he triumphantly picked up his vegetable and took it to a small scale to weigh.

“I always wanted to be a scientist at plants because I always dreamed about it,” he said. “My dad taught me how to plant things.”

Franky and 84 other second-graders from Sardis jumped with joy and giggled with delight during their first-hand vegetable gardening experience Thursday at Gardens on Green. The lesson was part of their school curriculum “Lifecycles: Knowing what to grow and eat,” said Hall County Master Gardener Kathy Lovett. Hall County School Systems and the county’s Masters Gardeners joined forces to conduct the hands-on assignments for most of the county’s second-graders in the fall and spring.

Franky’s teacher, Neysa Ladd, said the outdoor lessons about plant and animal life adds more understanding for the students than a classroom lesson can.

“They get to see where food comes from,” she said. “Beforehand, some think it comes from the grocery store.”

During the vegetable lesson, Hall County Master Gardener Danny Askew taught students about a plant’s life cycle, beginning with seeds. To illustrate the point, he showed the children an assortment of seeds ranging from the small seeds of a radish to the large seed of a coconut. Then he explained the five elements plants need to survive using the word “plant.” Seeds need:

P — Place to grow

L — Light

A — Air

N — Nutrients

T — Thirsty for water

S — Soil

To help them learn the importance of caring for plants, Askew showed the children how to plant a radish seed in a square-shaped box with plenty of soil.

“Now we can let you take some of these seeds and take them home,” he said, which caused gasps and giggles from the students. “But it needs light and water.”

Franky jumped when he learned he could take home his radish seeds.

After the planting lesson, Askew turned the children’s attention to harvesting vegetables once seeds have grown. He gave particular attention to the sweet potatoes.

“If you are given a choice of what kind of vegetable to take on a deserted island, ask for a sweet potato,” the master gardener said. “It has more nutrients than any other.”

The students then moved on to digging out the sweet potatoes from the ground at Gardens on Green. Hall County Schools Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett pointed out the sweet potatoes were not ready to be harvested until a week ago.

“We haven’t had much to harvest,” he said. “The sweet potatoes have done fine. But the watermelons rotted and the corn didn’t make it.”

However, that didn’t seem to faze the students. They eagerly waited their turn at planting seeds and digging for potatoes.

They also seemed to enjoy tasting fresh sweet potato chips made in a microwave as well as store-bought chips during the meal lesson.

Trae Cown, assistant nutrition coordinator for Hall County Schools, showed the children how to eat a well-balance meal using the chart. And the information sank in immediately.

“We learned about protein, dairy, fruits and vegetable,” 8-year-old Joshua Bull said.

“I learned if you don’t get enough sun, you don’t get a big potato,” 7-year-old Lydia Stewart said.

Although not all the students focused on the academic lesson of the day.

“(The chips) taste sweet and salty,” said Asher Wilson, 7. “And I like the trip because we got to eat.”

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