Middletown students grow gardens and their knowledge about food

MIDDLETOWN — A grant from a national charity group through a local chapter has students at an elementary here growing their minds through growing some food.

Students at Middletown’s Rosa Parks Elementary are planting seedlings inside a specially designed classroom space to learn about gardening and the importance of healthy food.

The new program sprouts from a $2,000 grant from the Elks National Foundation designed to enhance students’ nutritional instruction in largely urban school districts through hands-on agricultural lessons.

According to Middletown School officials, the foundation’s “Beacon Grant” was given to Rosa Parks, which is on Minnesota Street — across from Barnitz Stadium on the city’s south side, “because the school sits in what’s known as a food desert, meaning there are no grocery stores or fresh food stores within walking distance.”

Officials said the Middletown Elks Lodge #257 purchased all the materials needed for the gardening project including seeds, dirt, fertilizer, hot plates, lights, pans, cooking utensils, and storage racks.

Members of the lodge also hand-delivered the materials and assembled the entire food lab.

“It’s so amazing to see an idea like this come to life,” said Rosa Parks’ Teacher Courtnie Puckett.

“This project will be able to expose students at Rosa Parks Elementary to an opportunity they might have never been able to experience,” said Puckett.

Under federal guidelines for free and reduced-cost school meals program, enough of Middletown’s 6,000 students qualify as coming from low-income families so that 100% of the district’s enrollment is eligible for the program.

Thanks to the grant, a section of Puckett’s classroom has been transformed into a miniature food lab as students plant and tend to a variety of edible plants.

Through guided lessons and interactive sessions, students are learning about agriculture, sustainability, nutrition, environmental stewardship and responsibility.

And, officials said, through the food lab, students will also be able to ultimately reap the rewards of their labor, by also learning how to cook healthy recipes.

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