Students learn about organic gardening In St. Pete

03/06/09 Arielle Stevenson
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For many students at St. Petersburg’s Lakewood Elementary, few were aware that food came from the ground, and not from their local supermarket.

But when an organic garden built by students from Eckerd College’s Environmental Science Department was planted on the school grounds, that all changed.

The students planted raised beds with a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Lakewood students work with Eckerd students throughout the day, tending the plants.

Peggy McCabe is a science teacher at Lakewood Elementary, she says that this garden has provided significant learning tool through hands on experience.

This is Mark Johnson’s fifth-grade class’s third time in the garden. For the Eckerd students, the fifth graders are the main workers, and today the students are watering and weeding the beds. Johnson says the gardens are teaching a larger lesson to his students.

The project was spearheaded by Professor Kent Curtis is the assistant professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. Curtis is also father to 8-year-old daughter Maxim and 6-year-old son Noah. When Curtis and his family moved to St. Pete’s Southside, Maxim and Noah were enrolled at Lakewood Elementary.

Curtis quickly joined the school’s PTA, and noticed struggles among teachers with math, science and reaching FCAT benchmarks. Lakewood, which teaches students from mainly low income homes, has had struggles, like other schools, trying to teach standardized tests to their students.

Amber Deming teaches third grade at Lakewood, her students doing an FCAT-related science lesson in the garden. Eckerd students are taking smaller groups and are identifying different plants, taking measurements and writing down observations.

Austin is a fifth grader at Lakewood, he says that although he has big plans to become a police officer, he wants to have a big garden of his own.

Curtis says he made sure that his students did the leg work, and made them figure out everything as a team. They were given a budget, and had to plan and build a greenhouse and all the raised beds. Donations from Sweetwater Organics, Lowes and others came in.

For Political and Environmental science major Kailey, this project became much more work than any of the 20 students working on it had anticipated. But the work came with rewards.

Professor Curtis says this project is more than just a small garden the kids will work in at school, but something that will change their perspective on food for the rest of their lives.

A Harvest festival is planned for April, all the fruits, vegetables and herbs that have been grown organically by the students will go into making a pasta primavera dinner for parents, teachers and students.

For more on Lakewood’s gardens,

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