AUGUSTA — Kindergarten teacher Brandi Grady said she started a garden club at her school in part for a selfish reason — because she loves gardening. But the biggest reason for the club is teaching children about food, nutrition and how to eat more healthfully.

“I think it’s important for children to know where their food comes from and how it’s produced, and that’s one of the main goals,” Grady said. “These kids all signed up because they were interested, and teaching them about being self-sufficient is important.”

Grady and two colleagues started the Sprout Scouts garden club at Lincoln Elementary School in Augusta last spring after receiving a mini-grant and several donations that funded the purchase of materials to build the garden’s raised beds. Seedlings were planted during the spring; and over the summer, parent volunteers tended to the garden and harvested food ahead of the start of the school year.

The club has about 50 students ranging from kindergarten through grade six. It meets bi-weekly. The children are broken up into three groups, in which they take turns working on gardening and cleanup, composting, experimentation and other related topics.

Grady said with winter approaching, she has plans to have local farmers come and talk about using locally grown food to create healthful meals, to conduct lots of experiments about how seeds grow, to promote healthful eating and trying new foods in the school cafeteria and even a seed fundraiser to raise money for the club.

Many of the students in the club already have experience working in gardens at home, Grady said, but for other children, “it’s their first time putting their hands in the dirt.” She said there are vocal and proactive students who are the “voice behind the garden club.”

Emma Buccellato, a fourth-grader, joined the club because she really enjoys nature and gardening and being outside.

“I really like vegetables and fruit, and I really like helping people eat more and make their own food so they don’t have to buy anything,” Emma said.

Emma said she doesn’t think the students in her class eat enough healthful foods, because when she sees them throw their trash away at lunch time, they are always discarding vegetables and fruit.

“They need to learn about how important that stuff is,” Emma said.

Classmate Skylar Dixon said she really enjoys getting her hands dirty and has an interest in where food comes from. She doesn’t have a garden at home, but she thinks she’ll be suggesting that to her family as soon as possible.

“I think it’s important for kids to learn to eat healthy,” Skylar said.

Jada Wensman, a Food Corps Inc. representative who works with schools in the area, said she is trying to get children to understand there are healthier choices on the lunch line and give them an understanding of what healthy eating means.

“We’re trying to get kids hands-on and learning because they learn it better when they can do it,” Wensman said. “They are more inclined to eat it if they grow it themselves, so you’re getting them involved and passionate about it instead of just hearing someone tell them to eat their vegetables.”

Aside from working with the garden club, Wensman is working in Lincoln Elementary School classrooms to help teachers develop food-based and garden-based lessons so that it becomes something the students are receiving day-to-day instead of something on special occasions.

“Eating and nutrition is part of everyday life, so it makes sense,” she said.

Part of Wensman’s mission is to teach the life skills, such as gardening and cooking, to make healthy eating more accessible and possible for everyone. Shopping at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods is expensive, she said, but growing sweet potatoes or vegetables in your own garden is much more sustainable.

Grady hopes to continue to build on the garden club and grow the club, because children need to learn how to eat more healthfully and learn that there many ways to achieve a healthier lifestyle, including gardening, composting and being self-sufficient.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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