School kids as master gardeners

July 18, 2001

St. Paul, MN (July 18, 2001) -- On the grounds of H. L. Johnson Elementary School in Palm Beach County Florida, you'll find the usual set of swings, monkey bars and slides. You'll also find something else, more than 30 raised-bed gardens complete with ripening tomatoes, pole beans, assorted herbs and enough other healthy looking vegetables to make any home gardener envious. Planted and tended by students, school gardens are growing in popularity. And for good reason say their advocates. They teach a myriad of valuable skills in a way no teacher, book, or computer ever could. They have become so popular, that the world's largest organization of plant health scientists is devoting an entire day at their upcoming Annual Meeting to the discussion of school gardening programs.

"Simply organizing and planting a garden teaches kids about science, math, social studies, economics, and nutrition," states Richard Raid, a plant pathologist at the University of Florida and organizer of "School Gardens: Nourishing Bodies, Expanding Minds," the day-long session being held as part of the American Phytopathological Society (APS) annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to Raid, educators have found the gardens to be so effective in teaching complex subjects that 25 schools in Palm Beach County Florida alone currently have gardening programs.

Research supports educator observations about the power these gardens have to mold young minds. At the APS meeting, Monika E. Reuter, of the University of Florida, will report the results of her study of the Palm Beach County gardening program in which she found that not only did the gardens encourage learning, but they also enticed children to eat more nutritious foods, with students in the gardening program showing greater inclination to try something they had grown themselves than the same vegetable coming from a supermarket.

Scientists along with area educators will hear reports on other youth gardening programs around the country, and learn how to organize and fund a school gardening program. Additionally, Debra Spielmaker, of Utah State University, will describe ag-related lesson plans currently available through a nationally recognized program, Ag in the Classroom, and will focus on the relevance of school gardens to academic curricula. As a workshop highlight, participants will have the opportunity to see a youth gardening program in action by touring the Thanksgiving Point Institute's garden in Salt Lake City.

Adds Raid, "As scientists we're excited about what these programs are teaching kids and we want to support them in any way we can. At a time when things are becoming increasingly sophisticated and computers and television seem to dominate many kids lives, it's pretty interesting to consider that the age-old practice of planting a seed might be the real key to inspiring a new generation of scientists."
The symposium on school gardens will be held at the APS Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m. Complimentary registration is available for reporters and science writers. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases, with 5,000 members worldwide.

American Phytopathological Society

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