About 90 third-graders have been working in the garden this fall, planting, pulling weeds, and discussing the progress. The students are growing lettuce, artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, strawberries, tomatoes, onions, basil and other herbs. They sometimes bring their first-grade “buddies” into the garden with them.
The students recently took turns cutting the colorful leaves of lettuce. Jey Young, Central Kitchen Manager from Tempe Elementary Nutrition Services, gathered the harvested lettuce and took it back to the Central Kitchen where it was later washed and prepared into 180 half-cup salads. Students were able to taste the lettuce during lunch.
Third-grade Teacher Deb Wakefield went the extra step to have their garden certified by the Arizona Department of Health Services. She had to complete a five-page Garden and Food Safety Plan. “Only two other public schools in the state of Arizona are certified,” confirmed Linda Rider, director of Nutrition Services for Tempe Elementary School District.
This certification means that the health inspector, who has come out and checked the garden and determined that the vegetables are safe to eat, has verified the Rover School Garden.
“The students wash their hands thoroughly and wear gloves before working in the garden,” said Wakefield. These safe practices are an important part of the certification process of the garden. No chemicals are used in the garden at all. A local company donated the watering system and Home Depot donated the wood for the garden beds.
When asked what they were most excited to try from the garden, many of the students said, “Lettuce!” When they finally got to taste the fruits of their labor, the third-graders had nothing but good things to say about their garden.
Zia Martinez said, “I didn’t expect the lettuce from our garden to taste that delicious or grow that fast!”
“It tasted better than any salad I’ve ever tried,” said John Coronado.
Billie Davis added, “It was awesome. It tasted great because we grew it!”
The third-graders learned more than just science in their garden. They learned more than just that vegetables taste good when you grow them yourself. They learned life lessons.
Kiersten Carlson said, “I learned responsibility working in the garden because we have to take care of it.”
“You have a garden in your heart,” said Naiya Laux. “You have to plant seeds of kindness so you can do good things.”
Cameron Kieber added, “Your heart is like a garden. Doing bad things is like having weeds in your garden. You have to keep the weeds out and do nice things, and that makes it grow.”
The students learned that they have to respect their garden like they respect themselves, each other, and their own bodies. They have to pull the weeds out in order to grow kindness.
Nutrition Services Director Linda Rider said, “We like to bring in local produce to our cafeterias as much as possible, and you can’t get more local than this.”
Rover School Principal Dr. Mark Eley said, “It’s nice to be one of the first schools doing this.” Eley added, “The students are so proud of themselves, and they should be.”