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TEACHING GARDENS: Learning Through Planting

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Des Moines students are getting their hands dirty this spring, digging in dirt behind their schools. School gardens are becoming more popular as teachers and outside groups look for ways to teach kids healthy eating habits. But, they're learning much more.

Digging in dirt is fun for the Kindergarteners at Moulton Elementary. One of the students says, "We got to play and plant."

But, it's also a learning experience. The kindergarten class is planting broccoli as part of the all school planting day. Daniel Schultz with Food Corps says, "We have 20 different teachers coming out, planting things like lettuce, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, you name it, we're planting it."

Two Food Corps service workers helped get the garden going.  Schultz says the garden at Moulton is one of 22 at Des Moines Public Schools this year, compared to only a handful two years ago.  He says, "We're just helping spread the seeds of what teachers already wanted. We're just a community resource."

Food Corps helped schools find funding and manpower. Moulton got grants from the American Heart Association, The Waldinger Corporation and plants from the Burpee Seed Tour. But, Schultz says the teachers are the champions of the school garden.

Teacher Susan Rushing says, "Long range, we want to see communities and families involved in this. We want to raise up kids who appreciate and understand fresh, locally grown healthy food. And, that they can do it in their own yard."

Rushing says it is a great learning experience in and out of the classroom. She says, "Teachers have used it for literacy and math. Just, yes, that's one of our goals is to get more and more education going on with the garden."

Long term, the teachers would like to organize outdoor classes for families to learn how to cook with the fruits of the students' labor. For now, they'll focus on planting, harvesting and taste testing. Rushing says, "We have teachers that do taste tests when the produce starts coming up. We did an all school cantaloupe test and voted did we like it, did we not like it."

Food Corps members also hold nutrition classes at six Des Moines schools once a month throughout the year.

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