Merrill Elementary School garden club is where curiosity grows
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Students who are involved with the Merrill Elementary School garden club grow and care for different types of plants, which are stored in containers outside of the classroom. The students also will grow plants in the school's outdoor garden in the spring. Dennis Hines, photo.
BELOIT -— Even though spring hasn’t exactly sprung just yet, that has not stopped some students at Merrill Elementary School from cultivating their knowledge of gardening and nutrition.
The school partners with Community Action and the University of Wisconsin-Extension to offer an after-school gardening club, which meets every other week, for second- and third-grade students. About 10 students attend each session and use light kits to help them grow plants and vegetables such as marigolds, lettuce, spinach and broccoli.
The students start each session by inspecting the plants to make sure they are healthy, then they prune any dead branches, leaves or flowers, a process the students call “giving the plants a haircut.” The students then check if any of the plants need to be watered.
“They’re learning how to care for plants,” John Ramstad of Community Action said. “We have eight larger plants we’re growing, and every other week we take them down, and the students have to do chores with them.”
Julie Gibbs, nutrition educator for UW-Extension, also meets with the students to talk to them about nutrition.
The students sample vegetables such as broccoli, radishes, tomatoes, raisins and celery and learn how to incorporate them into healthy snacks. The students also read the nutrition labels on various products to learn which ingredients are healthy and which ones are unhealthy.
Ramstad said even though the purpose of the garden club is to help the students learn about plants and nutrition, they want them to have fun, as well.
“We want them to associate growing vegetables as being fun, so it’s not all serious,” Ramstad said. “It’s not something to be scared about or worried about. We want them to appreciate the flavor and texture of fresh vegetables. Most of the food they eat is processed, so many of these children have never eaten a radish plain. So, the more we can expose them to what food tastes like in their natural element, that’s good for us.”
Students enjoy the hands-on nature of the program.