What began as a campus beautification plan at South Columbus Elementary School has become a school-wide gardening project led by National Honor Society students.
“They love the gardening,” said Deidre Howell, the school’s National Honor Society coordinator. “We had a huge summer program where our kids just engineered the whole project.”
South Columbus Elementary is one of 14 schools in the Muscogee County School District with a gardening program, and six more are in the works. In recognition of its Farm to Schools programming, the district received the Golden Radish Award from Georgia Organics for their work in 2017.
MCSD served 6 million meals featuring locally grown food, and held more than 40 cooking demonstrations for students. Columbus City Council and Mayor Teresa Tomlinson declared October as Farm to School Month, in line with the national program, and issued a proclamation in celebration of the school district’s work.
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This year’s theme is “Kickin’ it with Kale,” so the South Columbus youngsters planted curly kale as their winter crop.
“The students have several opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature, learn about where their food comes from, and then harvest that food and learn to cook it for themselves,” said Anne Randle of the University of Georgia Extension Service.
The young gardeners have planted squash, corn, bell peppers, an herb garden and will plant a strawberry patch in the spring.
“I think gardening is fun,” said fifth-grader Rachel Catherman, who also gardens at home with her grandfather. They grow tomatoes, oranges, blueberries, peaches and apples.
Healthy, fresh food helps fight childhood obesity and other preventable food-related diseases.
“Access to fresh, locally grown food is not just important for students’ physical health — it’s part of their academic development as well,” said State Superintendent Richard Woods. “When children eat fresh, healthy meals, they have the fuel they need for a successful day of learning.”
Some of Howell’s students didn’t realize that french fries are made from potatoes. She said that their response to the gardening project has been “phenomenal.”
“The goal is to build more gardens, serve more local food, and teach more nutrition classes until every student in Columbus knows where their food comes from and why that matters,” Randle said.