Children and laughter filled the Gardens on Green at the Hall County schools central office last week as local elementary students took their first field trip to the gardens for an outdoor learning experience.
Students from Lula, Mount Vernon and Sardis elementary schools as well as Lakeview Academy went to the gardens to get a lesson from Hall County's Master Gardeners. School teachers and Master Gardeners taught students about pollinators, planting vegetables, nutrition from garden foods and native Georgia plants.
And this Wednesday, students from Martin and Chestnut Mountain elementary schools and Centennial Arts Academy will take a field trip to the gardens as part of the Junior Master Gardeners program under way in 10 local elementary schools.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students are eligible to participate in the after-school program in which Master Gardeners visit schools to lead gardening classes.
Hall County Master Gardener Sandra Hunt said she's teaching Junior Master Gardeners about their natural environment and how to care for it.
She teaches students about plant varieties, vegetable gardens, the garden food chain, healthy eating, recycling and organic gardening options.
"One thing we try to get the children to understand is that if they don't take care of the environment today, it won't be here tomorrow," she said. "... What we're trying to do is to share our love of gardening with the community as well as give them the tools to garden."
Master Gardener Mindy Wade said teaching the community about gardening and environmentally sound planting practices is a top priority for Master Gardeners.
"Gardening in general is important for kids to know about, to know about food and where food comes from and what they can grow at home," Wade said. "If they're going to eat healthy food and know where it comes from, we have to teach them. Plus all kids like to get their hands dirty and dig in the soil."
Hall County Deputy Superintendent Lee Lovett co-founded the garden along with his wife Kathy Lovett, a Hall County Master Gardener and former Hall County English teacher. Lovett said about 50 teachers and Master Gardeners are working with the elementary schools to develop the garden as a teaching tool.
He said the vegetable garden at the central office should be finished by the end of this week. It will feature tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers and squash.
Lula Elementary School teacher Pat Statler said Wednesday it's clear students really dig planting in and learning about the garden. She said incorporating gardens into students' lives is a great way to pull them away from their electronic infatuations and remind them of the natural world.
"We're hoping that our students will, first of all, learn to take care of the environment at school and take it out into the community," she said. "They like the idea of planting things and watching things grow."
Statler said teachers and gardeners are stressing to students that it's healthiest to eat fresh, organic and locally grown food.
"We're teaching them locally grown food is better and fresher for you, and that you can choose to not use bug sprays," she said. "... We hope they came away with a love of gardening or at least an appreciation of where their food comes from."
Statler said Lula students also tend to a garden at their school.
Breanna Sinquefield, a third-grader at Sardis Elementary School, was excited to show off the tomatoes, mint, oregano, begonias and marigold she planted last week.
"I think they're going to grow and then we'll pick 'em," she said. "I love tomatoes. I love every vegetable, except squash."