The Edible Classroom

The dream catcher-like trellis inside the raised wooden flowerbed was built by Edible Peace Patch Garden Manager Cory Simmons out of bamboo and hemp twine to provide a climbing surface for plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. “Between each bed, we’re going to place cattle fences to be like arches for kids and adults to walk or crawl through,” he said. Pictured from left are Shelly Henry, volunteer; Karen Day, volunteer; Tom Lancraft, volunteer; Simmons; Heather Henderson, garden director; Timothy Sommers, education coordinator; and Albert Risemberg, volunteer. Beginning with fall semester 2017, students will help select the produce that will be planted in each bed.

Heather Henderson is on a mission at some Pinellas County schools as the garden director for the Edible Peace Patch Project, a non-profit based in St. Petersburg. The project began in 2009 and aims to teach wellness and establish healthy eating habits to children attending Title I schools and, by extension, their families.

Gulfport Elementary School is one of seven schools benefitting from educational gardens built by the group’s staff and its volunteers. In partnership with the school board, an eight-week science curriculum that includes math pairs traditional classroom instruction with state-of-the-art, hands-on urban gardening techniques for each student in third, fourth and fifth grades. Soon, students in kindergarten through third grades will also be included.

In addition to teaching the standards that students need to reach as part of their grade level, the gardens produce “fruits and vegetables for students and families to take home,” said Henderson. “We have a harvest festival at the end of every semester at each school where students are able to try different dishes that are made from the produce that they’ve been growing.”

As part of their learning experience, students are encouraged to touch and taste test the produce.

“When a kid munches on a radish, I’m not like ‘Oh no! That’s for the harvest.’ The produce is here for education and not for production,” said Henderson. “Students come out once-a-week following a curriculum that flows from seed all the way to harvest.”

For more information about the project, volunteer opportunities or how to become a community food partner, visit peacepatch.org.

From left, Cory Simmons, garden manager, and Timothy Sommers, education coordinator, both from the Edible Peace Patch Project, transplant one of eight banana trees in the retention pond at Gulfport Montessouri Elementary School, 2014 52nd Street S. The plants were thinned from the established garden at the James B. Sanderlin Elementary School in south St. Petersburg. “We went and thinned out these babies because they would just die or not get enough nutrients being so close to other trees,” said Simmons. “They’re free bananas that grew from other banana trees. They can take as much water as we can give them.” In the background are newly constructed raised wooden flowerbeds and donated plastic rain barrels.

 

 

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