GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — Autumn is a time of harvest, and student farmers from Netzaberg, Grafenwoehr and Vilseck Elementary Schools are doing just that in their school gardens.
In gardens filled with flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs, students are discovering where food comes from and what it takes to grow it before it reaches our tables.
School gardens are more than just dirt and plants, they are a wealth of hands-on learning and life lessons about science, nutrition, math, nature and much more. Luckily for many USAG Bavaria schools, students have access to these soil-filled learning hotspots. Teachers are finding creative ways to incorporate their valuable lessons in the classroom.
“Learning how to garden is a life skill, and it is important for the students to know it takes seeds to grow something you can eat, that food doesn’t just come from super markets but from the earth,” said Elfriede Kean, the Host Nation teacher at Grafenwoehr Elementary.
Kean is one of many teachers who maintains and uses the garden that was built with the help of the Directorate of Public Works.
At Grafenwoehr Elementary School, students investigate gardening through reading and internet research before digging in the earth. Student’s prep their raised garden beds and use their math skills by measuring the area of the beds, calculating the number of plants capable of growing in that area, weeding the beds and preparing the soil. Elfriede Kean’s class even learned about plant friends, compatible plant species that help fend off insects and nourish the soil when grown next to each other.
The ultimate reward of gardening for the students is eating their fresh harvest.
Grafenwoehr Elementary School has been busy reaping the benefits of gardening. Terri Sobey’s fifth grade class planted, grew and harvested potatoes. With the harvest she made a tasty potato soup for the students to enjoy. Lance Hooker’s third grade class grew and ate kohlrabi, a root vegetable commonly used here in Germany and one that many students had previously never tasted.
“I thought it was pretty cool to be beautifying the garden and the school. We had to work the soil, move the mulch out of the way. Then we sowed the seeds, and we waited. We got to eat the corn we planted. It tasted fresh and way better than frozen corn” said Grafenwoehr Elementary School fifth grader Brett Faraason.
When asked about the effort he put in and the work of growing a garden, Brett answered “It was worth it.”
The Netzaberg Elementary School after-school Garden Club allows students of all ages to get their hands dirty. Grades third through fifth work with the garden in the fall, and first and second grade tend it in the spring. They grow beets and zucchini as well as lettuces, radishes and even the edible flower English marigold, Calendula officinalis. This past spring, the Netzaberg Garden Club harvested their yields to prepare and eat a nutritious salad.
Research and experiments are not just for laboratories.
Netzaberg Elementary School teacher Sandee Roberts has students grow a Tulip Science Garden to conduct research. Students study the needs of growing plants, predict and measure plant growth, record the weather and soil temperature to determine their effect on growth, and graph and interpret their results. Once the tulips have bloomed, they dissect them to explore their intricate parts and how they work together to function.
At Vilseck Elementary School, one teacher caught the gardening bug after realizing her students did not know the journey from seed to plant.
“We were reading books about pumpkins, farming, migrant workers, and picking out pumpkins from the pumpkin delivery man. We had very rich discussions in my class and I realized that none of my kids understood what it was like to till the earth, compost, or planting complications that arise from farming or gardening. Thus, a teaching moment was born” said teacher Janet Nell.
She put her ideas into action.
“I invited a guest speaker, Mr. Henk, to help us put together a pumpkin patch. Wow, I was surprised and amazed by the results. The first thing we did was cut sod. That could have been a lesson and STEAM project on its own. The kids were so amazed by how easy it was to cut sod and were enthralled about the amount of worms under a small patch of soil. Lastly, when we were done, three children spontaneously told me they wanted to start gardens of their own at home and compost. Hopefully, this is a lifelong lesson and gardening becomes a strong need in our community. I hope more teachers get the gardener bug too!”