School gardens growing strong through Clemson Extension, Department of Education alliance
When her school changed locations last summer and left its greenhouse behind, Lynn Moseley worried how she would continue to teach students the importance of gardening and growing their own food.
But upon learning about Clemson Cooperative Extension’s School Gardening for S.C. Educators program during a workshop, the 23-year veteran teacher at New Bridge Academy says she “got goosebumps.”
“The presentation was just amazing,” said Moseley, who teaches grades 3-5 at the alternative school in Lexington. “Everyone who was there was just so present. They were so excited about what they were doing, and you couldn’t help but get excited yourself. So, I went back to my team and said, ‘Guys, this is super. We need to stay on top of this.’”
And stay on top of it they did. On March 5 at Philips Market Center in Columbia, Moseley was among the teachers present for the culminating hands-on workshop of a five-week online course that each new participant in the grant-funded program is required to take.
School Gardening for S.C. Educators began in 2013 as a pilot program in partnership with the College of Charleston and with funding from Boeing South Carolina that was implemented in the tri-county area of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
Two years ago, a partnership arose with the S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) Office of Health and Nutrition’s Farm to School program, which recognizes growing interest among school districts and communities to incorporate locally produced foods into the school nutrition programs.
Through the partnership, the SCDE Farm to School Program has funded 20 school gardens per year for the last two years and will continue to do so for the next three for a total of five years and 100 new school gardens across South Carolina. The program funds both training for teachers and the implementation of Clemson Extension’s school garden kits.
Benjamin Sease, SCDE Farm to School program coordinator, said the Office of Health and Nutrition works to get more local produce into the school cafeterias and help build students’ understanding about where their food comes from, as well as about agriculture and nutrition in general.
“It’s such a great program,” he said. “It comes with curriculum. There’s online training. Teachers don’t always have the time to research how to garden, how to understand building programs and starting school gardens at their school — you need a team, which this program incorporates. The curriculum is there, and it’s just an all-inclusive program that takes a lot of the legwork out of the teacher’s hands and just gives them a structured program to implement right away at their schools.”
With the help of SCDE, the School Gardening program is in more than 32 counties across the state and continues to grow by at least 20 schools each year, though there are also multiple cohorts each year that join the program through funding sources other than Farm to School.
Amy Dabbs, statewide school and community garden coordinator for Clemson Extension, said the partnership allows Extension and SCDE to work closely through a competitive grant process and recruit new teachers and schools that are excited to join the program.
Dabbs said the March 5 workshop was intended to underscore the lessons that educators have learned online and give them confidence to carry them out in the classroom, as well as a chance to interface with their 4-H agents and other Extension personnel and outside partners.
But the bottom line, Dabbs said, is benefitting students by exposing them to new, fresh foods.
“We’re growing quite an array of cool season vegetables — carrots, lettuce, kale, cabbage collards, you name it,” she said. “And the students, because they’re growing them themselves, they’re more likely to at least try them, if not be really excited about eating them. We also have a K-8 STEM curriculum that is included in the course, and we are seeing the teachers be able to bring the garden into the classroom and bring the classroom learning to life.”
School Gardening for S.C. Educators trains teachers to garden successfully with their students. The program equips teachers with training, curriculum and everything down to the seeds and plants they need to grow a successful vegetable garden on school property year-round.
“We’ve built in a lot of integrated pest management, best practices for soil and fertility — everything we could do to stack the deck so that their students will have a successful vegetable garden at their school,” Dabbs said.
Patricia Whitener, Greenville County 4-H agent, said the collaborative nature of the program allowed her to work with other agents throughout the Cooperative Extension Service to take advantage of expertise in areas such as agriculture and livestock to make the programming more effective and impactful.
“Partnering with a horticulture team and amazing state leaders like Amy Dabbs is just perfect for 4-H youth development,” Whitener said. “It’s about that hands-on learning opportunity. School gardens are essentially an outdoor classroom. It is a hands-on laboratory where we can do STEM, we can do agriculture, we can do food science, health and nutrition. A lot of the mandate areas that are incorporated in 4-H youth development, those standards are met in the school garden.”
The schools that participated in the recent training for new inclusion in the program are: Anderson Mill Elementary, Annie Burnside Elementary, Busbee Creative Arts Academy, Dreher High, Forestbrook Elementary, Kelly Miller Elementary, Kennedy Middle, Leaphart Elementary STEAM Magnet, Mayo Elementary, McBee Elementary, Middle School of Pacolet, New Bridge Academy, Palmetto Elementary, Ridge Spring Monetta Elementary, Saluda Elementary, Scranton Elementary STEAM Academy, St. Matthews K-8 School, Union County Achievement Center, Wade Hampton High and West View Elementary.
As for the future, Sease said more and more applications continue to roll in for the program each year, and he hoped it would continue well into the future.
“I feel like it’s a perfect partnership,” Sease said. “We’re in our second year of this partnership, and hopefully it’ll continue for years to come because it couldn’t be a better fit.”