Set-up meant to cultivate kids interest in growing food

by: COURTESY PHOTO: KIMBERLY MARTIN - Kimberly Martin helped prep the raised beds with Susan Cackler, Kathy Douglas (pictured here) and Arne Harrang.Last Saturday, volunteers took garden plots overrun with grass and weeds and transformed them into outdoor learning spaces for Banks Elementary School students.

There, children will watch their seeds turn into food, and their food turn into meals for the hungry.

Kimberly Martin, nutrition services manager for the Banks and Forest Grove school districts through the food services corporation Sodexo, helped kids plant seeds on Earth Day and will assist them in the garden until summer vacation, when she’ll rally volunteers to help with upkeep.

“We want to still be able to reach kids over the summer. We want their spring efforts to come to fruition,” Martin said. “Growing in gardens increases almost every area of scholastic performance.”

It also improves kids’ nutritional knowledge, social skills and desire for fruits and vegetables, Martin said.

Martin and the student volunteers will harvest produce throughout the growing season and donate it to the Banks Food Pantry. Organizing volunteering and tending to the gardens is not part of Martin’s job — she does that work on her own time.

Ericka Lepschat and Christopher Neuman, FFA members at Banks High School, will take on the classroom education part of teaching basic agriculture. Their lesson plans aren’t complete yet, but they are meant to address the basics of growing food, overall well-being, childhood obesity and proper COURTESY PHOTO: KIMBERLY MARTIN - After a full days work, the raised beds were ready for their Earth Day planting.

“A lot of kids don’t go outside or know much about plants,” said Lepschat, who credits FFA with making her a more outgoing person and for encouraging in her an awareness of her surroundings. “Some kids don’t have quite enough money for food, but they can learn to grow it in their backyard.”

“Children have so many interests which make it difficult to meet all student needs,” said Banks School District Superintendent Bob Huston. “This gardening project opens the door to students who may not otherwise have the interest cultivated. A school garden promotes new learning, the acquisition of a new lifelong skill, encourages cooperation with others and an appreciation of wonder that comes with planting, anticipation, nurturing and harvesting.

“It also helps students see how they can be involved with a sustainable venture from year to year.”

Lepschat had another garden-related positive to talk about: happiness.

“I’m excited for the kids,” said Lepschat, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. “There are usually stuck inside all day.”

Martin is hoping to bring in as many students as possible to the experience with elementary students, FFA students and even shop students building garden beds and a greenhouse.

by: COURTESY PHOTO: KIMBERLY MARTIN - FFA students Colin Burton, Matthew Murry and Colton Perdew volunteered their time, too, last Saturday. Martin has also helped her coworker Sheila Dale implement a lunchtime sustainability project that has drawn a strong student response. After each lunch period, the pair weighs the food students waste. Martin estimates the kids have cut their waste by half since they started the experiment and realized how much they were throwing away.

About 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the U.S., which would be enough to feed the country’s hungry people, Martin said. “We want to get the kids outside and working so they can see how much effort it takes it takes to grow food - you can’t just buy it and throw it away.”

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