There has been a renewed interest in teaching our youth how food is grown. Since 2013, the Putnam County garden-based learning program has garnered the attention of others in the community and has expanded to now include six elementary schools, reaching over 1,700 students.
The program, funded by four grants from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and support from local businesses and organizations, allows for the installation of school gardens using high tunnels.
The garden-based learning program teaches students how to grow produce for the cafeteria salad bar, how to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses from their agricultural practices and harvesting techniques, how to manage the day-to-day activities in the high tunnel garden, how to recognize evidence of insect pests and diseases and how to identify stages of plant growth.
The students learn about soils, composting, proper harvesting techniques, data recording, harvest weights and life cycles of plants. They learn about grids, area and perimeter, and expand their vocabulary.
Students sell their spring and fall harvests to the local Board of Education through the Farm to School Program. During the past two harvests, students from three elementary schools sold over $1,460 of produce.
The true impact of garden-based learning is reflected in the test scores. Students at George Washington Elementary who participated in garden-based learning improved their math and science test scores by 13 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
For more information on this initiative, contact your local WVU Extension Service office.
By Chuck Talbott, retired WVU Extension Agent – Putnam County