Seed-to-plate program teaches students STEM skills, nutrition

“You have to wash it off first and then take a bite,” he said.

Fangman is one of nearly 190 students at Brookwood Elementary School in Hamilton who participate in the Seed to Plate program, a gardening/cooking club that just received a grant that will enable it to run year-round.

For the past three years, Brookwood has tended an outdoor garden on campus at 1325 Stahlheber Road that produces tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, potatoes, and more organic produce in the warmer months. Thanks to a $3,000 grant for a Toolbox for Education program through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, the school can fund a greenhouse and gardening system that will enable the students to grow fresh produce in the winter months, too.

Previous grants helped to purchase the greenhouse materials, and the structure itself was built by Hamilton High School carpentry students, said Kim Westrick, Brookwood’s assistant principal. A hydroponics gardening system — where plants are grown in water without soil — is also purchased, and the grant will fund an aquaponics system, that uses the waste of live fish for nutrition to grow the plants.

“This will be a living lab where the kids conduct research to see what works and what doesn’t, like what’s the temperature of the building, what kind of fish can survive, what kind of plants can survive,” she said.

The students then learn how to use the vegetables in smoothies and salads. While they love getting to eat the fruits of their labor, Westrick said that the skills they learn go further than just where their food comes from.

“They’re being active, collecting data, and participating in team-based exercises,” she said. “We have a lovely cafeteria, and now the kids aren’t just picking up applesauce; they’re taking the spinach and they’re loving it.”

Bekki Turnbull, who teaches fourth grade math and science at Brookwood, said the students learn their math and science skills while digging in the dirt.

“They come up with testable questions, such as growing 16 radishes in a square foot rather than 32 radishes… and they learn measurement at all levels, organizing the garden,” she said. Turnbull and Westrick joined the Hamilton Urban Garden Systems board after starting the garden, and HUGS provided Brookwood with their initial produce.

Many of the students involved enjoy the interaction between grades.

“I joined because I love being outdoors and meeting new people, and I love vegetables,” said Kendall Lee, a fifth-grader at Brookwood. The students are divided in two groups, grades one through three and grades four through six, and older students show the younger students the ropes.

Lillianne Fangman, a second-grader at Brookwood and Jared Fangman’s sister, said her friends in the garden club taught her how to know when a carrot was ready to be picked.

“You wait until there’s a little bit of orange poking out of the ground,” she said. Both Fangman children volunteered time over the summer to tend the school garden, and now grow vegetables at home.

Westrick hopes that with the expansion of the garden into a greenhouse, the school will soon have plenty of produce to be able to share with their neighbors.

“There are so many houses that we share a property line with around here, and maybe someday we can have an open community garden here at Brookwood,” she said.

Brookwood is one of several schools in Hamilton City School District with an outdoor learning center, along with Fairwood, Bridgeport, Riverview, and Ridgeway Elementaries.

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