Monday, October 15, 2012

Introducing Yellville-Summit Middle School...

Sara tends garden beds in the school's central courtyard.
It’s 7:45 on a September morning at Yellville-Summit Middle School. I’m putting the finishing touches on a cedar raised bed frame—leveling, clearing rocks, and picking out stubborn Bermuda grass roots. As school busses unload, the middle school students ask if I’m having fun. It’s about 90˚F already (still only 7:45am), and I can’t decide whether or not I should smile and lie. The kids ask if they can help move rocks, pull weeds, or water. I have since learned not to ever give a student control of the hose—someone is going to end up soaked.

When I signed up for FoodCorps, a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy, I did not anticipate all the work and sweat that would come before the students and I could enjoy the fruits of our garden. I guess I had envisioned garden fairies (or better yet, gnomes), that would prepare a lush, productive garden where I could then explore, learn, eat, and play in with my students. Those first few weeks were tougher, physically, than I had anticipated.

Sara and her DGS Garden Program Specialist Katherine. 

Working with the Delta Garden Study* means my school receives all the resources to build a school garden, as well as a curriculum to teach everything from science to language arts utilizing the garden. Turns out, I’m included as one of those resources to build the garden.

Sweet peas on the trellis flanked by rows of lettuce.
Flash to now: lessons have started, sweet peas are on the trellis, and we are harvesting greens like nobody’s business. One of the goals of DGS is to see the effect of a school garden on school bonding—whether kids feel connected to their schools, feel excited about coming to school, and feel ownership over their garden. After only four weeks of Delta Garden Study lessons, I know, unscientifically, that most kids are excited to go out in the garden. Yellville has a population of around 1,200 people,  and in this rural town everyone seems to know everyone else. Naturally, everyone knew about me within a few days of my arrival. I have taken a bit longer to meet everyone, and I’m still definitely working on matching up faces to names. However, the kids frequently flag me down in the hallway to ask if today is a garden day or if we’re going to taste and recipes this week.  Now that we have produce to harvest, we’ve been cooking and preparing recipes, some familiar, others new. This week, we made sautéed turnip greens. Most kids around here are familiar with turnip greens; I had never tried them until now. One of the seventh grade boys said, “I wish they served this in the cafeteria!” Hopefully, that will happen in the next year. 

People, from students to faculty to grandparents, ask us how our garden looks so good. My response usually is that if you spent 40 hours a week on your garden, and it rained every weekend, then your garden would look amazing too! There is so much potential in school gardens, and I’m so fortunate to be serving in a community that is as excited about the garden as I.

Basil soon to be transformed into a new student favorite - pesto. 
*The Delta Garden Study is a $2 million research study funded by the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, designed to prevent childhood obesity and social risk behaviors, and improve academic achievement, in middle school children in the Delta and Central regions of Arkansas. Led by Dr. Judy Weber, Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at UAMS, the study’s primary outcome variables are increased fruit and vegetable intake and increased minutes of physical activity. Secondary variable include reduction in body mass index (BMI) and body fat, reductions in social risk behaviors, and increased school bonding, improved student grade point averages and benchmark testing scores. 

You can learn more about the Delta Garden Study at

By Sara Fulton-Koerbling 

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