School gardens again sprouting for Butler County students on summer break

Credit: Journal News

Credit: Journal News

The growth of school campus gardens took a hit last year during coronavirus but this summer break, as the pandemic wans, they are making a sprouting comeback, say area school officials.

In recent years, the gardens have become a stable for many area schools as an extension of the both the locally grown food movement and as a multi-faceted learning environment where students can apply classroom lessons in biology, science and mathematics.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are more than 7,000 school gardens nationwide.

Summer break sees many of them worked on regularly by visiting school families and community volunteers to raise a wide variety of vegetables.

Lakota’s Heritage Early Childhood Center has eagerly embraced the revival of its garden beds on the Liberty Twp. campus.

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Second grade teacher Jenny Hutzelman helped lead the effort this spring to restore the gardens beds, which were dormant during most of the coronavirus’ worst months of 2020.

“We worked, and worked, and worked some more,” said Hutzelman.

She estimates that it took almost three weeks to pull all the weeds to prepare the beds. Students and their families even came on the weekend to help, and a local Home Depot store helped with donations of garden soil and supplies.

By August when classes reopen, the students will harvest and then dine on their “homework” planted in the spring.

The learning benefits far exceed the culinary, she said.

“It’s become part of our … science (unit), math … also the kids are learning the value of hard work. It’s gone on throughout the summer and the kids have made the commitment … they are coming in and watering it and weeding it,” she said.

In the fall students will harvest what they planted: tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and cilantro. They will make salsa at the school to share with classmates.

“The first grade planted pumpkins, and they will be using them to do various math and science activities,” she said.

A recent weekday morning saw Hutzelman joined by a Heritage student and his father helping out with the gardening.

Brady Jennings, a third grader at the school, said gardening “is really fun” and his favorites are watermelons and pumpkins.

Brady’s father Brian said his son “has really enjoyed this and it’s been a good, hands-on learning experience.”

“Every day when he got off the (school) bus, it would be the first thing he would talk to us about and what they (students) did in the garden today.”