Tiny, gloved hands plunge into the soft soil, grabbing bits of earth between bent fingers. The hands carefully place a seed sprout into the ground, covering it with soil and giving it a final, loving pat.
It will be a long wait for the tomatoes, the peas, the carrots, the strawberries. A long wait for cucumber salads, blueberry smoothies, roasted rosemary sweet potatoes. But it will be worth the wait.
Blossoming in Asheville is a concept of hands-on learning that takes the school curriculum beyond the boundaries of classroom walls, while also attempting to change the world’s view on food, one elementary student at a time.
“It’s so much easier to open children’s’ minds than to open adults minds,” says Jordan Diamond, garden specialist at Vance Elementary’s Peace Garden. “If you try to change the way the population of our country feels about food, children are where to start.”
The school’s garden allows Diamond to incorporate other elements of the curriculum as well — from history and social studies to math and science.
“It teaches kids what the real world is like outside of reading and writing and math — and it does actually integrate all of those things,” Diamond says. “You can write about your experience in the garden, use math to measure beds and count how many plants per square foot. It enriches and brings life to the school curriculum in this amazing, ideal way.”
Rachel Lubitz, garden specialist for Hall Fletcher Elementary’s learning garden, agrees. “I think it makes our students so much more aware — whether it’s aware of the story of their food, whether it’s aware that seasons bring perennial flowers, new insects or more ecosystem elements,” she says. “They’re so much more in tune with their surroundings.
“As a child, you’re so much more curious about [nature] — and zestful about it,” Lubitz continues. “They notice things that I wouldn’t even begin to notice, and that’s what’s really exciting about the garden. It brings out the curiosity that’s already within them.”
And the vegetables, fruits, flowers and curiosity aren’t the only things taking root in the garden.
Lubitz adds, “You see a domino effect of students becoming better critical thinkers, taking these lifelong healthy habits with them, having a better appreciation for the environment around them.”
School gardens aren’t the only way to let Asheville kids get their hands dirty. The Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park, a project of Bountiful Cities, brings a downtown community together to harvest, prepare and cook a variety of produce grown and tended to by friends and neighbors. The community ran a gardening after-school program in May that included planting skills, recipes and outdoor art projects.
“They were so excited — and I was too,” says LaTonya McDowell, coordinator of the Youth Garden Club. “I didn’t know you could put peanuts in a blender and make homemade peanut butter.”
But beyond learning the basics of making things grow, gardening may also plant a cornucopia of virtues in the elementary students themselves. “I think a lot of children have the idea that you plant something in the ground, and it doesn’t matter how you space it, how deep you plant it. You don’t have to do anything for it — it’ll just grow,” Lubitz says. “But to see them take the care — trellising the cucumbers, or spraying the beets with organic fungicide, or helping me trim runners for strawberries. They’re getting a very keen understanding of what the story of their food is.”
And as the kids wait for the day they’ll pick their perfectly ripened bounty, Lubitz says they’ll get one last lesson — how to balance excitement and patience through the careful tending of their crop.
“They’re invested in it,” Lubitz says. “Their combination of being excited to learn and being excited to eventually harvest and eat — that part is my favorite part. Because that part — I can’t teach them that. That’s all them.”
Want to get your kid out in the dirt? Here are some upcoming events:
• ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm-to-School series. Saturdays through August at Asheville City Market. Info: 236-1282.
• Enka-Candler Library’s garden exploration day at Sandhill Community Garden. July 15. Free. Info: 250-4758.
• Vance Elementary gardening & art summer camp. Aug. 4-8 & Aug. 11-15. $160. Info: avl.mx/0b9