Learning takes root at OSU-supported school gardens

October 24, 2013
Concord Elementary School garden. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)
A student at Concord Elementary School in Milwaukie shows off produce. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Students across the state are getting their hands dirty in school gardens and learning where their food comes from with the help of the Oregon State University Extension Service.

A 22-page report, "Oregon State University School and Youth Gardens," describes the OSU Extension Service's role in supporting 132 gardens in 27 counties from Seaside to Portland to Ontario with 154 staffers and volunteers. The report lists each garden, school and town served by OSU Extension.

"This report shows that school gardens are important not just in teaching kids about nutrition and health, but also in learning valuable skills in agriculture, biology, leadership development and making a difference in their communities," said Maureen Hosty, 4-H youth development faculty with OSU Extension and lead author of the report.

Hosty developed the report as part of her work representing OSU on the steering committee for the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Network. OSU Extension staffers and volunteers with all program areas, including 4-H, Master Gardeners and Family and Community Health, are involved. They help plan, implement and organize projects, provide on-site consultations, train teachers and students, develop curriculum and support after-school clubs.

School gardens such as the one run by Walt Morey Middle School in Troutdale have benefited. The school built a 9,000-square-foot rain garden in 2008 to manage stormwater runoff. An Extension-trained Master Gardener helped organize the project, and students selected and planted the landscape in 2008. The school also works with 4-H Wildlife Stewards, an OSU Extension 4-H program of trained volunteers who help students and teachers create wildlife habitats for schools.

Sixth-grade science teacher Michele O'Brien said children collect weather data, observe the garden's natural environment, identify wildlife, study wetlands, write about their experiences in journals and make charts and graphs of their observations. Master Gardeners help maintain the rain garden in the summer and work alongside students during the school year.

"That first class of students who helped build it in 2008 has now graduated from high school," O'Brien said. "When I periodically run into them, they ask about the rain garden. Some of them have gone onto career paths in environmental science in college, and I think the rain garden got them thinking about that. The impact has been tremendous. Without Master Gardeners working with us between their volunteer hours and expertise, it would have been extremely difficult to do this project." 

Lea Bates, a coach with Lookingglass Elementary School in Roseburg, coordinated the school's garden for more than 20 years with the support of OSU Extension and other community partners. The large garden includes vegetables, fruit trees, grapes, ornamental plants and even a butterfly garden. Children learn about horticulture, nutrition, math, science and language arts as they weed, plant, water and participate in an after-school 4-H club.  

"It's been a wonderful project for the kids and an opportunity for them to supplement what they're learning in the classroom," Bates said. "It's real world experience and an educational opportunity that gets kids out of doors. Everyone says it's fun even though it's also work." 

And at Springwater Trail High School in Gresham, English teacher and garden coordinator Paul Kramer receives logistical advice from Extension's 4-H faculty as well as support in curriculum development at the school's one-year-old vegetable garden. Kramer volunteers to coordinate an after-school garden club in which high school students are finishing harvesting lettuce and radishes and learning about cooking and nutrition. They made their own homemade salad dressing, roast beets and pickle cucumbers.

In the process of learning about horticulture, Kramer sees his students gaining aptitude in problem solving and critical thinking. They're also building patience and discipline.                                                    

"The most interesting thing they got from the garden was camaraderie and the companionship," Kramer said. "I wasn’t expecting that. Students who would never have hung out together in the past were now spending time outside, interacting with another and helping each other."

To download a copy of the report, go to Oregon State University School and Youth Gardens (pdf). 

Author: Denise Ruttan
Source: Maureen Hosty