Nichols class grows food for use by other students

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By Stephen Thomas

 NICHOLS - Teachers expanding students' minds is a sincere form of cultivation - planting seeds into their young brains.


Nichols Elementary instructor Cindi French took it a step further. French and her husband, Mackie, have developed a working vegetable garden on the school grounds over the summer.

The garden's purpose is to provide first-hand educational opportunities for Nichols students while supplying the school cafeteria with home grown produce for healthier lunches.

Since the first day of school French has been assisted in the garden by many students with green thumbs.

"We take one tour around the garden every day," French said of her first grade class. Students pull weeds, water plants and are now picking produce.

"We wore gloves and picked the weeds, and I used a kid-sized hoe," said student Parker Murray, who admitted some previous experience helping grandparents raise pumpkins and gourds in home gardens.

The Nichols garden began with a crop of cherry tomatoes, pumpkins and watermelons.

"There were some kids who had never before eaten a tomato off the vine," French said. "Some of them, until this, if you asked them where tomatoes came from, they wouldn't really know. They would say from the store."

French noted that the garden provided many various educational opportunities, among them math and writing.

"It's a springboard for writing skills," she said. "In math we can discuss the weight of a pumpkin, or its circumference. Plus we can look at the plant life cycle, things like baby melons and how they grow, blooms turning into fruit, and how they grow from seeds."

"The hands-on learning that takes place with the students is invaluable," said principal Sheri Hamilton. "They get first-hand knowledge of how food goes from the farm to the fork, so the speak. Locally-grown food is so much healthier and tastier, too."

Other grade levels will begin to implement the garden into their various social studies projects, French said.

Members of Amy Ferrell's 4th/5th class took science lab time to collect watermelons for the cafeteria. Ferrell said the class was currently studying plants and stems.

So far cherry tomatoes and watermelons from the garden have been prepared as part of the school lunches.

The rest of the school will soon begin further involvement with the garden. French said two representatives from each classroom were selected to help plant fall vegetables including lettuce, carrots, peas and a few herbs.

Depending on the garden's success, French said a future produce stand at the school was a possibility, both to raise further funds and as further educational strategy.

"We have plans to incorporate economics lessons - wants and needs, being able to plant food for your family and as a source of income by selling produce," she said. 

"With the obesity epidemic in this country and the push for healthy eating, this is one way we can help," Hamilton said. "We also have the support of our (Bullitt County Public Schools) food service director, Cindy Kleinhelter."

At Bullitt Central High School, Kleinhelter collaborated with the school's Future Farmers of America program to grow lettuce for cafeteria use as an implementation of a Food for America grant sponsored by the national program.

Bullitt Central's lettuce has also been implemented in the cafeterias at Bullitt Lick Middle and Roby Elementary.

At Nichols support and funding has come from the surrounding community, including Mackie's assistance and Dustin Simcoe who helped plant and maintain the garden during the summer.

"Josh Green used his skid-steer  loader to clear out the flower beds that occupied the garden space," French said. "David Murphy shoveled a truck load of manure onto the garden as fertilizer. Billy Ashby did the initial tilling. Clifford and Delores Ashby provided six bales of straw."

The Nichols Family Resource Center also pitched in by donating child-sized tools, garden gloves and watering cans so students could help further in the garden.

For now, the students are enjoying their lesson plans without really knowing that they are learning. Part of the fun is enjoying the fruits of their labor.

"It's a little better than the store," said first grader Eli Burden upon eating his first slice of Nichols-grown watermelon. His buddy, Joshua Taylor, knew the secret.

"You just water it, every day," Joshua said. "You have to especially when it's not raining."

Second grader Camren Johnson was pleased with his large slice of home.

"The juice is really good," he said.

"It was really watery," said 4th grader Raquel Ralston, who hopes to someday grow an apple tree based  on what she learns.

Her classmate, Austin Patenaude, agreed that homegrown items are much better than what is offered in stores and restaurants.

"It's better than Golden Corral," he said of the watermelon.

French is happy to know that students are enjoying a product they made themselves. As much as a slice of watermelon satisfies their stomachs, she is more impressed with how the process enhances their learning and life skills.

"These opportunities to experience these things first-hand provide background knowledge that will enhance their understanding of things they read about and study in school," she said. "It also presents the opportunity to have a hobby that is good exercise, good for the environment and good for your diet."