OBE's garden club program is made possible thanks to community partnerships.
Harvest time at Ormond Beach Elementary means it's time for students to reap in the fruits of their labor.
Wednesday, Nov. 20, marked the day OBE garden club students in third, fourth and fifth grade were finally able to harvest radishes, lettuce and sweet potatoes after months of cultivating them in the school plots. The gardening is part of an education program made possible by a partnership between the school district, the county and the University of Florida Volusia County Extension, which helps provide master gardeners to help tend to gardens at schools like OBE or out in the community.
Ormond Beach Elementary teacher Francesca Knutson, who oversees the club, said the goal is for the students to feel like the school garden and the food it produces is theirs, as well as provide an educational opportunity regarding healthy eating habits.
“It gives you value and nutrition, but it’s also just a great time," Knutson said. "It’s very exciting, and the kids pretty much do everything.”
That's why the sprouting vegetables aren't in neat rows, she added. Between 20-30 students take part in the club throughout the school year. Their participation has boosted their performance in science standardized tests, she explained; before the club, the students weren't doing well in the life science portion.
When it comes to bringing the garden to fruition, OBE has shown that it takes a village.
“The community has really supported us," Knutson said. "The Master Gardening program and our Rotary — it’s been night and day difference.”
The Rotary Club of Downtown Ormond Beach has helped OBE with its sprinkler system for the garden as well as installed new raised beds.
Patrick Zayas, county supervisor for the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, regularly comes to OBE to teach students about nutrition. It's a program that goes hand-in-hand with the garden, as it helps students understand where their food comes from and how it impacts their health.
A lot of schools initiate garden programs on their own, Zayas said, but some of them need an extra hand when it comes to horticulture.
“That’s where the University of Florida comes in and the extension service," Zayas said. "They provide that expertise, they provide that knowledge through the master gardeners.”
Sharon Gamble, county extension director of livestock for the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said over the past decades, people have become less and less connected to where their food comes from.
“Projects such as this really help to connect back with the origins of your food supply," Gamble said. "That’s a deep message that comes down.”
After the students picked and washed their vegetables, it was time to eat. They sat at tables in the garden area and enjoyed a salad made with the food they cultivated this season. Knutson also made two different types of sweet potato pudding for them to try after an afternoon of harvesting.
Kimberly Wilson is part of the club, along with her sister Ashley. She enjoys growing her own fruits and vegetables at school.
”It’s also fun when you’re doing all the harvesting and all the other things because you know you’re helping," Kimberly said.
For fellow garden club member Indira Hicks, it's also about seeing firsthand where food comes from, unlike food from the grocery store, she said.
“I like that I’m in the garden club because I can have one at my own house and we can make our own food," Hicks said.