Thursday, February 12, 2009

Go! Garden

Editors Note: Jacqueline Venner Senske is the coordinator for Project Grow’s Go! Gardening program. Jacqueline has a B.S. in Horticulture from Iowa State University and a M.S. in Public Horticulture through the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. Her experience with Project Grow is diverse, having served in the Newsletter Committee, assisting Executive Director Melissa Kesterson as the Community Garden Supervisor, and working with Go! Gardening for the last two years. Born and raised on an Iowa farm, Jacqueline is passionate about providing opportunities for everyone to learn about growing food and connecting with the planet, as well as each other, through gardening.)

For the past few years, Project Grow has worked with Mitchell Elementary, part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools system, to create Go! Gardening. Go! operates at the Project Grow community garden at Mitchell Elementary in conjunction with a Title One summer school program. During the six-week long session, students spend 30 to 60 minutes in the garden each week, participating in activities like planting seeds, pulling weeds, pruning and staking tomato plants, fertilizing the soil, and best of all, harvesting and tasting the produce.

Integrating gardening into the classroom provided new opportunities for learning and having fun. To connect the garden to other summer school activities, the Mitchell teachers did a great job of integrating garden themes with their lesson plans. The garden contributed much to the classroom, not only for science and math, but also reading, writing, history, and other areas of study. Last summer, one class combined their reading, writing, and drawing skills with what they learned in the garden to write a book about gardening. Garden activities, like writing plant labels and measuring sunflower height, reinforced classroom lessons. The garden became an engaging learning environment with the added benefit of physical activity through caring for the space-- a great outlet for kids restless after several hours at their seats. To balance the “work,” the kids also sang songs and made craft projects.

Perhaps best of all, spending time in Project Grow’s Go! Garden exposes students to a side of food that is often new to them: its source. When they first come into the garden, many kids don’t know that many ingredients for their favorite foods –everything from salad to pizza and tacos-- grow in a garden. Sometimes foods from the garden are new or unfamiliar, which might otherwise scare off the kids. However, after planting, growing, and caring for the plants, the new little gardeners are eager to taste the food and often want to take it home to their families.

The program’s growth over the last year has made for better garden experiences for both students and teachers. Now, we’re ready to take it a step further.

I am already meeting with teachers from Mitchell Elementary to plan this year’s program. We are laying the foundation for a garden that will eventually integrate into every classroom at the school, engaging even more students and teachers, plus parents, other school staffers, neighbors in the community, and other community gardeners.

We would love to engage even more Project Grow supporters. If you want to join the team, or just want to chat about our Go! Garden vision over a cup of coffee sometime, contact me through or by calling the Project Grow office.

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