Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
“Who likes pickles?” asked Jan Congour, a second grade teacher at Northside Elementary. Her students gathered around the raised garden bed, each nibbling on a sprig of dill freshly emerged from the soil. This was the scene at morning recess, as the students learned about what herbs they like, and how to grow some of the things they like to eat in the 14 raised beds at the Northside Elementary Learning Garden.
The school’s garden project and outdoor classroom just got a $5,000 award to expand its outdoor learning space from Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN), a non-profit that promotes, supports, and facilitates opportunities for youth and their families to go outside, explore and embrace nature, and experience new activities in the outdoors. Funding of this award is partially from the El Pomar Foundation San Juan Regional Council and donations from supporters of FOYAN. El Pomar Foundation and FOYAN donors believe in the value, particularly now, of having access to experiences in our outdoor spaces that contribute to our youth’s well-being.
The funding has been used to purchase and install a shed, so tools and supplies can be close to the garden area, hoop structures to extend the garden’s growing season, and materials to build compost bins. The funding has also been used to purchase shade sails, white boards, and seating for outdoor classroom areas. Student teams submitted designs for the outdoor classrooms to the school’s Garden Team for selection. The students were given a STEM challenge to design and help build compost bins. As part of the STEM challenge, the students researched the proper mix of greens and browns to put in the right stuff for a healthy, pest- proof compost that they will eventually work into the soil.
The Learning Garden is a school-wide effort and has had four successful growing seasons. Each grade plants and maintains at least one garden bed with two to three vegetable varieties. Northside families, students, staff, and volunteers care for the garden in the summer. Each fall, the school hosts a harvest celebration where students and their families pick vegetables and learn more about the garden project. They also get to taste some of their rewards made into smoothies, juices, sautéed vegetables and snacks. This spring, second grade classes sold seed packets as a fundraiser to assist with the purchase of garden supplies. The seed packets were filled with seeds the second graders had harvested from the garden this past October.
The Learning Garden provides an opportunity for the Northside teachers to incorporate conservation concepts such as helping students understand where the valley’s water supply comes from and watershed related issues. The students also learn about nutrition, recycling, composting, and how to minimize their carbon footprint. Congour believes that “kids can learn many intangible lessons from working in the garden such as cooperation, nurturing, problem solving, sustainability, and stewardship of the Earth.”
One component of FOYAN’s mission is to promote healthy lifestyles. “The Northside school garden project is an excellent fit with FOYAN’s mission, particularly with the incorporation of the Live Well resources through Montrose Valley Food Partnership and nutrition lessons through the Denver Urban Garden Curriculum,” explained Anne Janik, FOYAN board member. Many community members are helping to make this garden project a success including seed donations from High Country Gardens and Valley Food Partnership and individual donations to FOYAN that are returned to the donor’s local community. But, the key to the Learning Garden’s success is the hard work of the Northside teachers, Garden Team, students, and families!
Growing delicious food has already made an impact on these second graders! When the students were asked what their favorite vegetables were in the garden? “cilantro, tomatoes, and chilis“ were the winners!
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