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North Freedom students install learning garden through grant

Susan EndresMay 22, 2019

North Freedom Elementary students filled containers with soil and dug in the dirt Tuesday, planting the seeds for a learning garden from which they’ll be able to eat next year.

Fourth-grade teacher and project leader Cory King said he thought the open field north of the school would be “an ideal spot” for a garden ever since he started working there. Now his idea has come to fruition, thanks to a contest sponsored by Dole Packaged Foods and Festival Foods in partnership with the Captain Planet Foundation.

“We’re just really excited and we’re very thankful to Captain Planet and Dole and Festival, and it’s just been a really fun event,” King said. “I think the kids didn’t really know what we had planned for them … but I think they were really into it once they got out here.”

Fifth-grade students built five raised beds for the learning garden, four squares — one bisected to make triangles — and one hexagon. Then fourth-graders lined the floor of the beds with cardboard and filled them with soil, so third-graders could plant seeds and starter plants.

While half of each class took turns working on the gardens, the other half ate fresh carrots, broccoli, blueberries and other fruits and learned about nutrition.

Marty Ordman, communications director for Dole, traveled from company headquarters in California to see the garden installed.

“It’s really important for kids to learn about where their food comes from,” Ordman said. “You know, they either see it just appear magically in their refrigerator at home or in the cupboard, or maybe they go with mom and dad to the supermarket, but we feel it’s really important for them to learn where their food comes from, how it grows, what you need to do to make it grow properly.”

The grant comes with curriculum that allows teachers to work the learning garden into lessons on various academic subjects, Ordman said, noting the various shapes of the beds for use in math. It also comes with a mobile cooking cart, a Vitamix blender and an induction burner, so teachers can bring their classes outside, have the students pick whatever they need from the garden and then make smoothies or cook vegetables they can then taste.

A benefit of children growing their own food, Ordman said, is they’re more likely to eat it, thus expanding their palates beyond what they normally might be willing to try at home.

“That’s what we’re really hoping to do is just expose kids to things that they may not have been exposed to at home or other places,” King said.

King said students planted green peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, celery, red cabbage, green beans and radishes, as well as pollinating plants to attract bees and butterflies, such as lavender, zinnias, coneflowers and sage. With bees dying off due to colony collapse, he said pollinating plants were a focus of the grant.

He intends to set up a rotating schedule of students to tend to the garden this summer. Then, when they’re ready to harvest next school year, the taste testing will begin. Any extra produce not needed for lessons likely will be sent home with students, King said.

The existing garden at West Kindergarten Center in Baraboo also received improvements through the grant as a secondary winner.

Jason Grossenbacher, store director at the Baraboo Festival Foods, said this is the first learning garden grant the supermarket has given in this area, and it would “love to do it again.” Getting involved in the community is one of the company’s core values, he said.

“It’s just great to be able to get involved and be able to give back,” Grossenbacher said.

Ordman echoed him, saying Dole plans to continue the program next year with more elementary schools in Wisconsin.

Captain Planet, a character from the animated series “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” milled around the garden while students worked. The Captain Planet Foundation, based on the show, helps youth become “environmentally literate citizens who leverage technology and information to manage and protect the air, land and water,” according to a news release.

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