Did you know wasp larva can invade a caterpillar cocoon, leading to wasps bursting out of the cocoon instead of a butterfly?
This interesting information didn’t come from the pages of National Geographic or a biology teacher, but Jaxon Cox, a second-grader at Harrison Hill Elementary School in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township. The relationship between wasps and butterflies was one of many biology lessons Cox learned while working in his school’s garden. Besides growing food, gardens are useful educational tools.
“My goal here is not to grow as much food as possible,” Neal Gore, school community liaison and gardener at Harrison Hill Elementary, said. “My goal is to be able to have a variety of experience for our kids, and they can choose what they want to try at home.”
Children are much more willing to eat healthy food that they grow. The garden at Harrison Hill provides everything from lettuce to jalapeno peppers, and students enjoy sampling everything. Anna Seib, a fifth-grader at Harrison Hill, learned to love tomatoes while working in the school garden.
“When I was in second grade I did garden club,” Seib said. “I never liked tomatoes, and I always thought they were gross. Then I finally tried one and they were good.”
Victor Mancilla, another fifth-grader, appreciated how the garden provides food untouched by chemicals at little cost.
“Now, in this time of year, there’s a lot of foods that have a lot of chemicals,” Mancilla said. “And since we could buy seeds in the store for 50 cents, you can grow your own organic fruits and vegetables.”
At James Whitcomb Riley School 43 in Indianapolis Public Schools, first-grade teacher Brea Porter’s classroom has one of the five tower gardens in the school. She recently made a salad for the students out of the garden’s produce.
“For a lot of the kids it was their first time trying a salad,” Porter said. “One of my students said, ‘Next time I’m going to McDonalds, I’m going to get a salad,’ and that was a really cool experience for me to know they were trying healthy foods. They made it, and they knew where it was coming from.”
Before the lesson, Porter once asked her students where food came from. They responded “the grocery store” but could not elaborate. Showing students how a seed becomes a plant that creates fruits and vegetables develops a better understanding of how food gets to the grocery store.
Aster Bekele, executive director and founder of the children’s farming program, Felege Hiywot, said when children understand where their food comes from they’re more likely to make healthy choices and recognize the importance of the environment around them as adults.
Gardening also makes children aware of the environmental concepts such as composting and carbon footprint. Harrison Hill gardeners create compost out of leaves and discarded school lunches, which keeps the garden chemical-free and teaches a useful way to handle waste.
“A lot of what I teach, too, in the gardening program with the older kids is about our carbon footprint,” said Laura Getz, an environmental science teacher at Oaklandon Elementary School in Lawrence Schools. “So they’re able to understand the cost to our planet of transporting vegetables, of big agriculture, the chemicals that are used and the fact by the time they make it to the grocery store they don’t even taste that good. So it’s not really worth all we put in the atmosphere for what we get.”
Gardening can even teach problem solving. Porter said the plants at the bottom of the garden were not growing, and the students discovered the lower plants received less light, so they adjusted the lighting. The students enjoyed gardening so much so that a student who rarely speaks started talking excitedly as vegetables grew.
“When we first started gardening, and they started seeing things blooming and blossoming, she actually yelled, ‘Look at this,’” Porter said. “At first, I thought something was wrong because I never hear her yell, ever. But she was so excited about something she had created it actually made her feel confident enough to use her voice.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.