Third graders recently were out in the garden getting their hands dirty.
Yep! They were planting lettuce, turnips and beets!
Students at TLC aren’t strangers to getting their hands dirty. Why? Because gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn.
Gardens are living laboratories where our students learn everything from team work to food production and lessons can be taught across the curriculum. Gardening encourages students to become active participants in the learning process.
These first graders took time to plant radishes. However, they weren’t just planting radishes. They were also learning about energy that plants need to grow. They also deepened their understanding of how plants get nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and produce food.
While they were in the garden, they snipped dozens of marigold blossoms in order to make garlands to decorate their classroom in celebration of fall harvest season!
Earlier this Spring, these students harvested the beets that they planted as seed in the garden. Ms. Emily took them home and cooked them for the students to eat as well. Growing vegetables is an important way to get young kids interested in where their food comes and try new foods. Way to go students!
Local aquaponics enthusiast, Bill Coleman shares his passion for the agricultural technique with middle school students at The Learning Center! Charter School. He talks excitedly about the potential aquaponics has to produce sustainable food anywhere – even on rooftops.
He explains that aquaponics is the marriage between aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). It is an integrated system for farming fish and plants together in a mutually beneficial cycle. The fish, kept in tanks, produce waste that supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water that is returned to the fish. The two systems benefit from each other. A third actor is the bacteria that converts the ammonia from the fish waste – first into nitrites, then into nitrates – that feed the plants. “Did you know,” Coleman excitedly asks, “that aquaponics requires only one-tenth the water of soil-based gardening?”
Coleman, a parent of former students at the school, got interested in aquaponics around four years ago – “quite by accident,” he adds – and experimented and perfected his own system. He decided to offer his volunteer efforts long-term to an “Aquaponics Elective” course at The Learning Center. He teaches a two-hour course every Friday for 6th 7th and 8th graders.
Coleman began by building the components, fashioning the tanks and perfecting the sump that is at the center of success of aquaponics design. Over time, the design went from 4 sq.ft. of growing area to about 120 sq. ft. “There were challenges that took months to iron out, including issues with water leakage,” said Coleman. “The whole process was two steps forward and one step back. The students, however, never faltered and we learned a great deal along the way.”
In this student run aquaponics system, one of many goals is to provide fresh, organic food that will be used in the school kitchen. “We have grown lettuce, broccoli, kale, peppers, arugula and more,” said Coleman. Students are learning the science of agriculture, botany, engineering skills and building techniques.
“We are excited about the community involvement in this important project,” said Coleman.” Materials were donated from local stores such as Lowe’s, TEAM Industries, Wilson’s, Hughes Electric, and from individuals just wanting to help the with the project.
If you would like to get involved in the aquaponics project at The Learning Center, or just discuss aquaponics and compare notes, contact Bill Coleman through the school at 828-835-7240.
Back in March, Ashevile based artist, Jeff Menzer, visited The Learning Center to plan projects he and students will be implementing on campus this spring. Mr. Menzer specializes in creating “Re-Art” Sculpture, figurative sculpture, and environmental installations using found objects and industrial discards. This spring he will work with our students to turn discarded trampoline parts into art pieces that will become part of The Outdoor Learning Center.
This large scale art piece project serves to involve students in the design process, involve students in collaborative problem solving of environmental issues through the creative process, and to complete two art sculptures, one a shelter and one large bug, that will be permanently installed on campus.
The Learning Center! Charter School has a long history of dedication to good nutrition and garden-based learning. The school’s garden program, which includes a terraced garden and greenhouse, got a boost from an Asheville-based seed company. On November 29th, Sow True Seed opened its doors to schools with garden projects to shop for 50 seed packets at no charge. According to Sow True Seed’s website, their intention is to support growers of the future. “The growers of the future are our future. By seeding young minds with excitement and enthusiasm for a greener world, we can grow a better world.”
The Learning Center nutrition director, Susan Blomeley traveled to Asheville, equipped with a wish list for spring and fall greens, a variety of squashes, pumpkins, and gourds, as well as summer flowers to support pollinators. Science teacher, Emily Willey who coordinates the school’s Outdoor Learning program, works closely with students throughout the year planning and cultivating the gardens and greenhouse.
Founded in 2008 by lifelong gardener and food activist Carol Koury, Sow True Seed provides open-pollinated, heirloom and organic vegetable, herb, and flower seeds to enthusiastic home gardeners and small market farmers.
Sow True Seed is working with Growing Minds Farm to School program to encourage more school gardens to flourish. Growing Minds is a program of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). “The School Seed Giveaway is a fantastic event for teachers and school garden coordinators to not only get resources for their school gardens, but also to connect with a wonderful community partner and school garden supporter, Sow True Seed,” says Jessica Sparks-Mussulin, Growing Minds Program Coordinator.
To Learn more, visit www.sowtrueseed.com.