School Garden News – Nevada

Area schools plant gardens to teach science and nutrition
Teachers want students to learn how to eat healthy

By James Haug Las Vegas Review Journal

How do you get kids to eat fruits and vegetables?

With a shovel and rake.

Gardens are not only useful for teaching science. They also teach children how to eat.

“Research suggests that children who participate in gardening projects are more often willing to consume vegetables that they grow,” said Patricia Lau, the program administrator of Project HOPE (Healthy Options for Prevention and Education), a three-year obesity study in Clark County schools by the University Medical Center.

Lau would like to show students at Martin Middle School, which has 70 percent Hispanic enrollment at 200 N. 28th St. near Eastern Avenue, how to grow tomatoes, chives and jalapenos so they can make their own salsa.

Improving diet and exercise has become critical since the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled to 12 percent since 1980, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is defined as 20 percent above a person’s ideal body weight.

Fran Gollmer, a science teacher at Gene Ward Elementary School, 1555 E. Hacienda Ave. near Maryland Parkway, has put students to work maintaining a 1-acre garden, thought to be the biggest school garden in the valley.

“The biggest problem we have is getting kids not to pick when it’s ripe. It tastes so good,” said Gollmer, who oversees a garden of carrots, snow peas, lettuce, peaches, pomegranates, almonds and other nuts, fruits and vegetables.

Ideally, she would like to send some produce home to students’ families. The garden is a family project since students tend to the garden during science class and lunch breaks and parents help take care of it over the summer.

Karyn Johnson, a community instructor with the Nevada Cooperative Extension, said there are more than 100 public and private schools with gardens in Clark County. She estimates 25 new school gardens are added every year. A behavioral school has a “therapy garden” to improve the mental health of its students.

At least one garden has gone indoors. Helen Stewart School, a special education school at 2375 E. Viking Road near Eastern, opened a 630-square-foot greenhouse in January.

School gardens do not have to be elaborate. Johnson said gardens don’t need much water if managed properly. Because of scarcity of resources, many schools plant “container gardens,” which might be a window-sill box, a ceramic planter or even a stack of old tires filled with dirt.

“You don’t have to be high-end,” Lau said. “You can use recyclables.”

Gollmer joked that the garden at Ward Elementary School is “funded through grants and people who feel sorry for me. There’s no money in the school budget.”

Because weeds were getting out of control this year, Gollmer said she sold $600 worth of popcorn to hire somebody to help with de-weeding. She has also gotten grants or donations from Wal-Mart, the Las Vegas Water Valley District and the Kiwanis Club.

High school service clubs and Boy Scouts working on their badges have also volunteered. The garden has nurtured 13 Eagle Scout projects.

Gollmer said all the work and expense is worth it considering that most of her students are apartment dwellers deprived of outdoor opportunities.

One boy who was raking some dirt pointed to a sprout in soil and asked her if it was a weed.

“No, that’s lettuce,” Gollmer said.

She said her students are so needy for nature that they treat the garden’s ladybugs like their pets.

Third-grader Ashley Ben-Rhouma, 9, was playing with a ladybug on March 31 that was tickling her arm.

“Don’t go up my shirt,” she pleaded with the bug.

Gollmer hopes the garden will whet students’ appetite for knowledge.

The garden has 4-feet-tall volcanoes made from chicken wire that emit “lava,” actually an explosive mix of Diet Coke and Mentos candy. Gollmer also buries “dinosaur bones” for her student paleontologists to discover.

On April 17, the garden will host an Earth Day celebration with 100 students coming from Nevada State College to put on demonstrations and explain exhibits as varied as composting and butterflies. They will bake s’mores in a solar oven.

Educators said students need to get their hands dirty.

“Children will never learn to respect the earth if they don’t get into the earth,” Johnson said.

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Leave a Reply