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Food for the brain

Science class at MECLA growing vegetables and flowers in its own garden

July 1, 2010
By Jodelle Greiner

MARSHALL - They never dreamed they would have a garden as part of their schoolwork, but the idea is growing on the students of Marshall East Campus Learning Alternatives.

Members of teacher Nick Patton's science class are tending a garden out back of the Market Street Mall, where the school is located, and learning a lot about growing vegetables and flowers and what they can be used for.

"Pretty cool to see how the food grows," said Jessica Barboza.

Article Photos

Photo by Jodelle Greiner
Stephanie Amdor waters plants in MECLA’s three boxes while fellow student Jessica Barboza, right, and teacher Nick Patton check the plants to see how much water they needs.

"I think it's good to know where the food comes from," said Abdi Ali.

That's the whole point, said school officials.

"It's nice for science kids to see the life cycle of plants from seed to producing food," Patton said. "A lot of kids buy a tomato or pepper and don't understand how it was made or where it came from. This is a great way to show them."

Superintendent Klint Willert has been talking about having a garden for quite a while, said Jeremy Williams, assistant principal at MECLA.

"He'd interviewed kids who said they wanted to see more fresh fruits and vegetables," Williams said. "He came to us with the idea."

A SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) grant was secured for funding and the kids dug in - literally.

"The theme this summer is 'physical fitness,'" Williams said. "This fits in really well with it - the health benefits from that, the idea of growing your own food and making things from it, and saving money.

The class is working with Darlyce Rangaard, a nutrition education assistant with the University of Minnesota Extension for Lyon County.

With the size of the plot they had, it was decided to plant a "salsa garden" said Patton.

"We thought we could use the vegetables best," he said.

"We planted tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and cilantro so we will make a fresh salsa this fall," Williams said. "We will also make things such as a homemade pizza sauce. They're excited about the salsa. We talk about how we're gonna get to eat this in the fall."

Some flowers were added to the mix to test a theory.

"We heard marigolds keep pests out," Williams said. The art class will use the flowers in projects in the fall.

Before the school year ended last month, students built the planter boxes, doing all the designing, measuring, cutting and assembly.

"It's the students doing the work," Patton said. "Great thing for them to take charge on a project and see it through."

Summer school students are the ones taking care of the garden.

"It's mostly the science class who's come out and we've got a health class, as well, that helps," Patton said. They started serious weeding last week and have been watering when needed.

A little over a dozen summer students are involved in the project, which includes "biology and physical science," Patton said.

"We try to tie aspects of each into physical gardening," he added. "A lot of the kids do well with hands-on projects. If we can get them actually engaged, it helps them learn."

"I think it was a good idea," said Stephanie Amdor.

"Especially for little kids so they know what they're eating and where it comes from," said Barboza.

"It takes time to do this" is what Ali has learned.

"Picking the weeds out because they steal nutrients from other plants," added Abi Carrasco. "I thought that was cool. 'Cause you can get all dirty."

Carrasco likes all the "vegetables and fruits," Ali said he's partial to the onions, and Amdor is anticipating watching the peppers grow "because they're just little baby ones now. They're really cute," she said.

"I've learned a lot," Amdor said. "I didn't really know anything about gardening until we came out here and started planning."

"It takes a lot of care to put water in there and take the leaves off and everything," said Barboza, who said she used to have a garden in Mexico.

"I tried, but all mine died," admitted Ali. "I think I'll try again. Pull the weeds and water most every day."

He plans to try a vegetable garden. Barboza wants vegetables and flowers.

"Vegetables and flowers," agreed Carrasco. "I don't like flowers. I'd do both, though, just because my sister likes flowers."



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