Both the kindergarten and second grade courtyards of PVPV/Rawlings Elementary School were enlivened with color Nov. 10, when the community came together to install a new butterfly and vegetable garden.
Youth Garden Coordinator Eileen Zebroski called the help of the adults gathered “invaluable” as a collection of Dad’s Club members, school volunteers and Ribault Garden Club members came together for the cause. The event saw the installation of 10 new 4x4 garden beds and one new 4x48 bed stuffed with a variety of vegetables and butterfly-attracting flora.
The efforts were brought on by necessity; over the summer, several of the raised beds that formerly occupied the courtyard unfortunately perished. According to Zebroski, everyone involved felt compelled to assist in not only replacing and replanting them but in contributing to the food education of young children.
“Many children today have no idea where their food comes from, so we teach them,” Zebroski said of the garden-based curriculum. “We will use the garden to teach them about butterflies, certainly – but we’ll also use it to explore food for our tables, the interdependence of plants and animals and the vital role of pollinators in our gardens and for our grocery selections.”
Among the foods currently planted are beans, radishes, lettuce, peppers and cauliflower. Zebroski says the crops will be planted based on appropriate season weather, and she expects to help the children plant peas, lettuce and spinach in the spring.
The act of gardening itself is a teaching method, she noted. Alongside discussions of plant anatomy, germination and photosynthesis, Zebroski plans to introduce students to insects commonly found in gardens such as bees, dragonflies and ladybugs. The process helps the children learn about the relationship between bugs and food they consume.
“(Learning this) also fosters a strong sense of ownership of ‘their’ garden beds,” she said. “We have found that it’s important for the children to just work in the garden and get a bit dirty or wet, and to taste what they have grown themselves. They often will try foods that they never would have tasted at home.”
The efforts have been collaborative. Funds for the garden beds were provided by the Foundation for Public Education in Ponte Vedra and The Ribault Garden Club as sponsors of the garden program, and volunteers are set to go to PVPV/Rawlings each month to help the kindergarten and second grade students plant, weed, water and harvest the food they’ve grown. Through themed workshops, the children will learn topics that help them form relationships with their food and the environment from which it comes.
Although the gardening sessions don’t replace science and environmental education, Zebroski’s hope is that they’ll shape up to be lasting lessons for the children involved.
“We are trying this year to really emphasize gardening and going outside and working with the soil,” she said. “And we offer an opportunity to learn this by doing it in a way that is not offered anywhere else.”