School gardens are good place to learn

The other day I was having a discussion with my soon-to-be 7-year-old son.

While our “discussions” frequently surround engrossing topics such as Pokémon cards (the most confusing “game” known to man); parts of the human body that, when hit with a soccer ball, incur some sort of pain; and even last week’s haunting conversation about what traits make one a werewolf; this one was all about school. And at some point during that discussion, I started a sentence with the phrase “When I was a kid ...”

Uh oh. That is a phrase used by old people. Like grandparents. Or my dad.

But not by me. I may be bald, but I’m still young, darnit!

After my self-pity wore off, we continued the conversation, and I realized (and I hope he did, too) that he and his sister are very blessed to attend a school that has its own garden. Their garden at Needham Elementary has been around since 2008. Needham is one of many local schools I can name (off the top of my bald head) that have their own garden: Animas Valley Elementary, Escalante Middle School, Bayfield Middle School, Columbine Christian School, Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary, schools in Ignacio, and even Fort Lewis College. All of these schools utilize these growing spaces in different capacities – science classes, after-school programs, fundraisers, food in the cafeteria – and each one is quite unique.

Animas Valley Elementary and Escalante each have two growing spaces – gardens that rival even the serious gardener’s and state-of-the-art greenhouses – while Needham’s consists of 10 relatively large raised beds. Some, like Fort Lewis Mesa’s, may be smaller, but what they lack in size (and water) they make up with in originality and student-led design.

In all of these sites, one theme tends to run consistent: The garden is just another opportunity for students to express their creativity, to increase their knowledge of the environment, and maybe most importantly, to understand where their food comes from. Educators from The Garden Project, the Durango Botanical Society and the schools themselves realize that children can develop pretty impressive sales pitches to their parents. When they spend time in the garden, have a natural world-based curriculum in the classroom, or even see garden produce in the school cafeteria, they become energized and empowered. Fortunately for us, that energy and enthusiasm comes home with them and they get their parents involved.

One thing all these gardens need is support. Parent volunteers on workdays; becoming a docent volunteer with the Durango Botanical Society; donations to The Garden Project; and even something as simple as talking to administrators, cafeteria managers and teachers on how the garden can become a larger component of the student’s day are all relatively easy things that we can do. If your school doesn’t have a garden, go to those same administrators and ask “why not?”

My kids, for better or worse, have grown up in the garden. Knowing that the garden doesn’t have to be the one in their backyard, but instead can be the one between the tetherball and playground, is a pretty cool thing. And planting carrots is a lot easier to understand than who wins a Pokémon game. or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.

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