WHEELING - The students at Woodsdale Elementary School were able to see the fruits of their labor, as a new garden they planted in the spring has grown and blossomed just in time for their return to school.
Friday morning, first-graders gazed in amazement at the 10-foot tall sunflowers and got their hands dirty picking green and red tomatoes and crisp cabbage leaves from the flourishing raised beds tucked away at the corner of the school's black top. Green peppers, hot peppers, cilantro, basil, rosemary and green beans are all grown and harvested by the students.
"Basically, (the students) left for summer break and when they came back, they were able to see that much abundance has flourished in their garden. It's been very exciting to hear all the kids talk about how amazing the garden looks and they can't believe how the tall the sunflowers are," Robert Martin, an organic farmer from Wheeling, said.
Photos by Sarah Harmon
First-graders from Woodsdale Elementary work on the new flower, herb and vegetable garden tucked away at the corner of the school’s blacktop. The students grow and harvest the food grown in the garden to be later incorporated in their lunchtime meals. Pictured from left front are Aniah Sparks, Julie Walters, Eli Hodge, Campbell Koegler and MaryAnna Blaine; back row, Daren Lyle, Addy Bommer, Grant Kenamond, Rory Frangos, teacher Susan Brossman, Alex Taylor and local organic farmer Robert Martin.
Martin is part of the Wheeling Green Initiative, which partnered with Woodsdale Elementary during the last school year to build a garden that would teach the children the natural process of growing and cultivating their own food.
"It's a very attractive process of growing food, and being able to have that appeal to the youth is very inspiring," Martin said. "It also leads to healthier choices. When they are looking for a good snack, they have an option like locally grown fruits or vegetables from their garden like carrots or beans as opposed to going to a convenience store and buying junk food. It's really a much more natural option and more beneficial to their health."
During the summer, teacher Susan Brossman and some neighborhood students tended to the new garden and watched it "take off" into fruition. Brossman said students pick vegetables from the garden every other day and then are later served that same food for lunch.
"We could not be happier to be on the cutting edge of this kind of project for our school, and we are so grateful to Robert that he was willing to come and get this off the ground for us," Brossman said. "We've been taking care of it through the summer. I'm shocked by how well it's doing."
Brossman also said Martin has agreed to come in throughout the year to teach classes on nutrition, farming and growing to "enhance the knowledge" for the students while using the garden.
Martin said gardening incorporates lessons involving science and mathematics, but also can inspire the creative process as well with art and music.
"We're able to be attuned to that, connect with that. It really helps create a well-rounded education and growth on the internal level," he said. "We are really inspired to share with the community that skill of sustainability, and being able to share that with the next generation and preserve that is really the key to a healthy community."