School garden nourishes education
Thomaston — As the weather warms and days grow longer, "Are we going to the garden today?" is the first question asked by fifth-grade students as they clamor into the classroom.
Thomaston Grammar School fifth-grade teachers Anne Pavalkis and Lynn Snow along with guidance counselor Colleen Kreps collaborated three years ago to create a school garden. Since its inception in 2009, the garden has flourished under the care of middle school students eager to cultivate their own food.
A former ropes course space near the school had been transformed into a storage catch-all and was so overgrown that opening the enclosure's gate was difficult. The area was deemed an appropriate place for renovation and is now the home of the common ground garden.
The garden is a science-driven project, said Snow, but also integrated are math, English and health lessons.
Students design additions to the garden, learn about composting, vermiculture, and the nutritional value of the vegetables grown in the garden.
Guests have visited the class to teach different gardening methods and enrichment techniques, such as landscape architect Mark Farmer, who presented garden design, and Bill Pluecker, who spoke about community supported agriculture and organic farming. Mark Follansbee of WormMania taught a workshop on vermicomposting, and Rebecca Jacobs from Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District also instructed garden design and wrote a grant for the project.
The first raised beds were made with the help of Duke Ellis of St. George Carriage Company, who demonstrated a more traditional approach, bringing his draft horse team to haul felled trees to the garden to assemble rustic beds.
Skills taught in other classes are applied to the project, such as woodworking and art. Students designed and cut out wooden marking signs, mimicking the shape of the vegetables. During art classes the signs were painted and will be added to the garden this summer.
The harvests have supplemented the school lunch program, providing colorful salad bars and introducing students to new foods such as beets, which was a high yielding crop last fall.
"Because the produce was from their own garden, students were very willing to try foods that they helped to grow. The project does seem to influence healthy eating," said Snow.
Pavalkis and Snow believe the appeal of the garden is the tactile approach and constant evolution of the project that keeps students inspired. Some students have started gardens at their homes after learning about and enjoying work in the common ground garden.
"It consumes us in the spring," said Pavalkis.
This year to raise funding for additional materials, students designed seed packets to sell. The 43 students involved raised $800, well beyond the projected estimate.
Beyond fundraising, community members and businesses have been generous, donating tools, a shed, lumber and loam for the project.
The garden will continue to expand. Future projects in consideration include creating a water collection system.
Snow said the garden creates a level playing field. "It doesn't matter if you're a good reader or math student in the garden," she said. "All that matters is one's work ethic and ability to cooperate and get things done."
During the summer months the gardens will be tended by three local families.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or by email at JLaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com