Fifth-graders at Wewahitchka Elementary School enjoyed a feast of large and healthy proportions during a luncheon to celebrate the end of the “From Seed to Plate” program which taught them how to grow and maintain a vegetable garden.
The food served at the luncheon, which was prepared by Marie L. Jones, was the fruits of the students’ labor.
Everything the students munched on came from the garden they spent eight months maintaining and cultivating. Though summer will soon arrive for the students, they end the school year with these specialized skills thanks to Gulf County Extension Director Roy Lee Carter.
Now in its third year at Wewahitchka Elementary, the From Seed to Plate Program sprouted about 15 years ago from an idea nurtured by the Port St. Joe Garden Club.
After proposing the program, the club received a grant from DuPont, a national corporation dedicated to driving innovation in science and sustainability, and launched From Seed to Plate at Port St. Joe Elementary.
It has since expanded to all schools in Gulf County including Faith Christian.
The garden itself is located across the street from the school on a plot of land owned by Charles Cleckley.
He supports the program and allows the class to use his well to keep the plants watered throughout the school year.
A portion of what grows in garden was donated by Bonnie Plants in Alabama while other donations came from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Carter said that the fifth grade is the ideal age level to learn gardening because the students are able to retain what they learn.
“For those who are interested in gardening, it lets us plant the seed,” he said.
The program is part of the science classes taught by fifth-grade teachers Melanie Hinote, April Bidwell and Kim Ludlau.
Before the 60 students ever stepped foot in the garden they spent class time discussing the act of planting, the role that bees play in pollination and took a field trip to the North Florida Research and Education Center.
David Beyl and his wife, Sally have been volunteers with the program for the last five years. Both are Master Gardeners who trained at the University of Florida for 12 weeks and must perform 50 hours of horticulture-related volunteer work each year.
“The students love it,” said Beyl. “You can tell that they enjoy the experience.”
Cabbage, lettuce, strawberries, potatoes, carrots, onions, eggplant, watermelon, beans, peppers, squash, sugarcane and various herbs made up this year’s garden with produce being grown both in-ground and in pots.
“We use pots to show the students that even if you don’t have room for a garden, you can still have a garden,” Beyl said.
While in the garden students were broken up into groups of four to five and they learned how to plant seeds, rake, fertilize and cultivate. Those who had the courage even learned how to operate a rototiller under Beyl’s close supervision.
“They also learned how to pick and eat the strawberries when no one was looking,” he added.
Students are made aware of what dishes can be made from the contents of a garden and students took home cabbages, carrots and potatoes to share with their families. Those who had an interest in starting their own gardens were given seeds to plant.
“It was a lot of fun,” said student Lavender Abdulla about the program. “We learned where plants grow but also got to get in the dirt.”
“It was fun and we also learned a lot,” echoed fellow fifth-grader Case Johnson.
John Rich, a volunteer with the program for 10 years, served up greens and sweet potato casserole to the hungry students at the luncheon.
“It’s all about getting kids to eat something other than hamburgers,” Rich said.
County Commissioner Ward McDaniel was also on-site for the festivities. A gardener himself, he applauded Carter for his time and dedication to the program.
“Roy does a marvelous job with the kids,” he said.
Carter added, “It’s the only gardening program you’ll find in North Florida. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it.”