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Pineville Elementary students learn importance of gardening

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 10:39 PM CST
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PINEVILLE, La. (KALB) - Pineville Elementary Students are learning inside and outside the classroom.

Through a partnership with the Good Food Project, Pineville Elementary has maintained a school garden for three years. Students get to tend to the garden and then donate their harvest to people in need through the Food Bank of Central Louisiana. The garden is for all students.

Pineville Elementary visual arts teacher Carolyn Scalfano said one of the many reasons it is important to teach gardening to students is so students can learn where their food comes from.

“Think about Louisiana, we are an agricultural state, so learning about it in the classroom is one experience, but actually having life and death experiences on the farm, success and failure, watching the seed grow into something that you can actually put in a salad and eat is a completely different experience,” Scalfano said.

She wants students’ gardening experiences to inspire them in their future lives.

“If one out of 30 kids...it sparks their interest and they decide to become a farmer or an entrepreneur of some type in the agricultural business, maybe it starts here,” Scalfano said.

The Good Food Project built raised beds, provided seeds and other supplies the school needs. Scalfano reports to the Good Food Project about their harvest and together they keep track of all donations.

“My favorite part is exposure to the students,” Scalfano said. “The other day we were in the garden and the kid was like, ‘is that a tomato,’ but it was actually a radish coming out of the soil because they saw a red vegetable, they associated it with a tomato.”

Scalfano gets to teach her students things that she said they otherwise would possibly have no clue about.

“They get hands-on experience, and I think that they’ll remember it in a different way instead of just telling them about it,” Scalfano said.

According to Scalfano, teaching students about gardening is important especially in the area where Pineville Elementary School is located.

“It’s a food desert so, we’re teaching the importance of eating fresh produce,” Scalfano said.

The Good Food Project partnership also helps teach students about helping people in need.

“They’re really proud that all they had to do was tend to their little seeds and then that cultivated six pounds of kale that we donated to the needy,” Scalfano said. “I think it’s a really good message just like a selfless kind of act.”

The Pineville Elementary garden has a little bit of everything growing. Students said they enjoy planting and then harvesting their own food.

“I learned that you can plant a lot of stuff in different types of gardens,” fourth-grade student Hazel said. “We were able to pick out the weeds, clean and fertilize the dirt.”

Hazel said that by having a garden people can grow their own vegetables, instead of going to the store and buying food.

“Plus, you can know that they’re fresh because if you get an avocado from the store and you don’t know if it’s fresh, you’re just getting a bad avocado,” Hazel said.

Her classmate Aspen said gardening makes her feel better.

“You get to put a lot of progress in it and you know that when it grows you did something good,” Aspen said. “When you’re done and have flowers you can put them in your house.”

Micah is another fourth-grade student and he said when he’s older he wants to be a farmer.

“I learned that when you grow, you can grow crops, plants, foods and vegetables,” Micah said. “I learned you can just use a little bit of water so it can be better.”

Micah’s favorite part is growing food, especially his favorites like bananas and carrots.

Over the years Scalfano has experienced several funny moments with her students in the garden.

“It’s hilarious to watch them eat their first sugar snap pea,” Scalfano said. “One of them will love it, but the others will go into the sink to spit it out. It’s all just funny. We harvested a bunch of lettuce. It’s really a great thing to see kids eat salad.”

She said without the Good Food Project she could not do what she does and she’s thankful to be over the garden program.

“I’m just really excited that our principal Dr. Stokes allowed me to take part in this because it’s really a dream come true,” Scalfano said. “I’ve always been obsessed with plants, I don’t know why I’m just one of those people and I’m getting to share that with the little ones and some of them are like that too. So, it’s great.”

Scalfano and her students will go inside the classroom and use the whiteboard to plan and talk about where crops will be planted.

“Then we come out here and we get straight to business,” Scalfano said. “I’m really proud of my students. They do a great job at tending the garden.”

In the three years of overseeing the garden, Scalfano said they’ve seen the number of students participating grow.

“My first year I only had a small group of eight students that were able to help me and tend the garden and we would do it every morning. Then everybody else was so jealous because they didn’t get to participate,” Scalfano said. “This year it’s actually been a schoolwide project where I kind of rotate between the classes to come and assist me and they all get a little experience in the soil.”

The Good Food Project uses organic gardening. The LSU AgCenter has several programs that encourage youth to garden. LSU AgCenter Agent and Horticulture Specialist Michael Polozola said the program is a positive thing for students.

“I think it’s a great thing and more kids need exposure to agriculture and horticulture to understand where their food comes from. If you ask a lot of kids, they say the food comes from the grocery store they don’t understand that it has to be grown,” Polozola said. “So, it’s good for them to have that hands-on experience to give them an appreciation for agriculture, and they may not be getting these life experiences at home and it can help them determine, maybe this is something I want to do further and open them to more career choices.”

Protecting your plants during a freeze

Polozola also shared some tips on how to protect certain plants during freezing temperatures such as a portulaca plant that does not handle cold weather well.

“I took some cuttings off it and have them in a greenhouse so it should be fine,” Polozola said. “But you can see it did not tolerate the cold well compared to violas and pansies.”

According to Polozola, besides putting plants in a greenhouse you should choose to plant more cold-tolerant plants in your garden. He said a lot of cold crops like greens and broccoli can handle lower temperatures, but different fruits, like strawberries, can be caught in the middle.

“Once you have the fruit themselves, they can tolerate fairly low temperatures until we get into the teens, but the flowers really can’t handle temperatures at about 32-degrees,” Polozola said.

A 32-degree temperature will freeze the strawberry’s flowers and at that point, it will not develop into a fruit. If you look at your strawberry plant and see a tad bit darker bright flash yellow, Polozola said that’s because temperatures got really cold that night and killed the flower back.

“But the fruit here will still continue to develop, and they will put out new flowers and put out more fruit,” he said.

Polozola’s strawberry plant was covered in frost on Tuesday morning, but the frost did not kill the plant back. Even if it did get cold enough, Polozola had the crown of the plant mulched so the crown could survive and come back. Using mulch is another way to protect plants.

Polozola said that citrus fruits are different because citrus does not enter dormancy as other fruit does such as pears and apples. Citrus fruit plants need to be protected because they are more of subtropical and tropical plants. Polozola said kumquats are more a cold-resistant selection and grapefruits and satsumas are slightly cold-resistant also. Navel oranges are not cold-resistant, and Polozola said they really don’t do as well in Central Louisiana.

“The temperatures we had recently in the upper 20s were not prolonged enough and that really caused us to need to harvest the fruit,” Polozola said. “But, when it does stay below freezing for a long time, you’re going to want to harvest all the fruit on the tree, because it will freeze and that will break down the cells in there and keep you from having good fruit.”

He said as of Thursday, December 1, harvesting is not needed right now, but if it gets colder you should consider harvesting.

According to Polozola, when temperatures really get cold you should protect citrus trees in the teen temperatures and build mulch around them to protect the graft union part of the tree.

“I go out to a lot of site visits where they got cold and the grass died and it came back from the rootstock,” Polozola said. “But, if you’re able to build up a pine straw or something around here, you can preserve this graft union in it, even though if it dies up to this point, it comes back above the graph, you should be okay.”

According to Polozola, something to consider with all fruit trees is knowing where your graph union is to be able to protect it and to prevent rootstock from coming back up again.

If you need to protect your citrus plants, Polozola said you can also use a sheet to cover them.

“Give yourself a little bit of cold protection by trapping heat in here, especially for a row crop,” Polozola said. “Have a metal rod lifted up a little bit, because it’s that air pocket in there that’s giving you insulation.”

He said to be careful because even though you experience a cold night the next day could be warmer, which can trap the heat and make it too hot for the citrus tree.

“So, on a time like we’re experiencing now where you have fluctuating night and day temperatures, you want to have it covered at night, and then uncovered during the day,” Polozola said.

For free gardening resources, visit this link to the Louisiana Farm to School Program through the LSU AgCenter.

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