There's a teaching garden at Centerville Elementary School in Leon County that students and staff have used for years to learn, study, or just relax.
That garden was recently dedicated as a U.S. Department of Agriculture People's Garden. The USDA began the People's Garden initiative last year in an effort to teach sustainable environmental practices, while also benefiting communities.
"The students are excited about what they are doing," said Sandy Hennesey, who teaches fourth grade science at the elementary school in Centerville.
The school's People's Garden lies between two buildings. Students learn the basics of gardening and how soil, water, air and sun impact plant growth. Learning stations include planting beds and pollinator areas. Water harvesting and composting stations are also being planned.
"Grant money paid for all you see here," Hennesey said.
The students' enthusiasm for the garden was palpable.
"It really does mean a lot to the school," said Harley Matthews, 9, adding what she likes most about the garden is "getting down and dirty."
Hennesey said one teaching lesson the students look forward to is growing pumpkins. Students make the seed beds, plant the seeds and follow the pumpkins' growth through to harvest. During that period, students do activities such as measuring and weighing the pumpkins.
Vegetables planted and grown at the garden are also utilized by the local Meals on Wheels program. Community members cook the vegetables and the students deliver meals to the elderly.
The school's garden began in the 90s with Marva Beck who had a vision of bringing science out of the classroom and into the outdoors. Beck, who had young children at the time attending the elementary school, introduced Hennesey to the Junior Master Gardener concept and program. The garden project initially began as a 4H project.
Through classroom activities, students can earn hours toward being certified as a Junior Master Gardener at the end of the school year.
Beck now serves as the National Association of Resource Conservation & Development secretary. The Resource Conservation and Development organization recently provided a grant to help fund the school's newly dedicated People's Garden.
Allen Smith, coordinator for Post Oak Resource Conservation and Development said: "It was such a positive experience seeing the students' positive reaction and enthusiasm for growing their own food. This garden can help bridge their disconnect about where their food comes from. RC&D's role in these gardens is to provide financial and technical support for this continuing education program."
Employees from the Natural Resources Conservation Services also were on hand for the dedication.
"Being the DC here in Centerville is a challenging position - getting conservation on the ground with landowners," said Floyd Nauls Jr., district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "But, working with the fourth graders in this community garden provides me an opportunity to educate the youth on one aspect of agriculture."
Hennesey's future plans for the garden include a greenhouse. The prime growing season is when the students are out of school and a greenhouse could prove beneficial, she said. Beck agreed with Hennesey.
"There is nothing like the wonder in a child when they see something they planted. See the seed come up - they're like wow. Fourth grade is an ideal time to get them and get their minds focused. The future needs to be a greenhouse," Beck said.
A USDA People's Garden was recently dedicated at Centerville Elementary School in Centerville. From left to right, standing behind a class of students are Sandy Hennesey, fourth grade science teacher, Natural Resources and Conservation Service employee Floyd Nauls Jr., Allen Smith, Jacob Shaffer, J.R. Sandel and Marva Beck, the National Association of Resource Conservation & Development secretary.
Students learn the basics of gardening and how soil, water, air and sun impact plant growth at the People's Garden at Centerville Elementary School. Learning stations include planting beds and pollinator areas. Water harvesting and composting stations are also being planned.