SCHOOL GARDENS are not too cool for school, the statistics show. A Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) review counts about 1,300 school gardens in the Sunshine State. Karla Shelnutt, a UF/ IFAS Extension nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences and Kohrine Counts, a dietetics intern, and a master’s student at UF/IFAS, did a study showing that Florida’s school gardens are helping to put ag in the classroom and fresh produce in the students’ diets.
Any teacher will tell you that hands-on interactive activities — where students actually are doing something — always beats reading about a topic, watching a video, hearing about the topic, or any other passive instructional method when it comes to student learning. When students plant seeds, measure vegetal growth, fight pests, and harvest a crop, they really are learning about innumerable topics, such as the life cycle of plants, the importance of pollinators, and so much more.
Students also get a better understanding of agriculture and what it takes to grow and harvest foods as a farmer, especially for urban students who are far removed from agriculture and country settings. Seeing ag in the classroom may be one of the few ways that city kids can experience agriculture. Furthermore, teachers also can use the garden as a vehicle for teaching other subjects, such as math. Lastly, it’s also a way that all students — even those with learning disabilities, language barriers, or other challenges — can experience success in a school setting.
School gardens also have a multitude of health benefits. It’s most likely that the produce raised in a school garden is consumed by the students, either in the classroom or in the cafeteria; this helps students to get fruits and vegetables in their diets. The novelty of produce grown in a garden also increases the likelihood that kids will try new types of fruits and vegetables that they may not be exposed to — or that they would refuse to try — at home.
No matter which way you slice it, school gardens are helping to bring agriculture to the classroom and providing a doorway for future industry leaders.
column by MICHAEL MARTIN
BIO: Michael Martin of Martin Law Office in Lakeland specializes in agriculture and environmental legal representation. A native of Polk County, Mike attended college at Sewanee in Tennessee, before obtaining a doctorate in law from the University of Florida. He has tried numerous cases nationwide since that time. Mike also serves as the director of the FFA Foundation and is the author of the novel, The Crestfallen Rose. To learn more, visit martinpa.com.