“The way you care for a garden is seed-by-seed,” instructor Kirk Cusick told Goessel fourth-graders March 31.
He explained that gardening might seem like a big task, but breaking it into smaller pieces simplifies it. It was Cusick’s first day working with students at the school, beginning a garden program.
Cusick conducts the program for Whispering Cottonwood Farm Educational Center Inc. of Salina. He will be at Goessel Elementary School every Wednesday to work on the garden with students.
At the beginning of the session, he asked students what they like about gardening. Getting dirty, finding worms, and having fresh food were the most common responses. Many students said they garden with family.
“We have a big garden (at home),” Lauren Hiebert said.
Cusick had the students be quiet, listen, and smell in the future garden, and he asked them what they heard and smelled. Gardening can help calm the mind and heighten all five senses, he said.
For the first day of the program, students dug up a few shovels full of soil and analyzed it. They found the patch of the future garden has heavy, clay-laden soil. Students noticed how tightly grass roots bind the surface of the soil together.
“I’m excited to see what it will turn out to be,” Rachel Miller said after class.
“I kind of want to grow tomatoes,” Kara Burkholder added.
Whatever they grow, they are going to do it with elbow grease instead of motor oil. All of the work in the garden will be done by hand, Cusick said. He brought several garden tools with him and had a safety discussion about their use with the students.
The garden will have three planting seasons. The first will be spring greens, like lettuce, spinach, and arugula. In the summer, the garden will feature tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupes, summer squash, watermelon, pumpkins, and native flowers.
The fall planting will include broccoli, radishes, cauliflower, and beets, as well as more greens. Carrots will be part of all plantings, Cusick said. Students in a summer program will continue gardening while school is out, he said.
Produce from the garden will be used in the school cafeteria and at Joyful Noise Community Child Care Center in Goessel. USD 411 Superintendent John Fast said he doesn’t expect the garden to dramatically affect the budget, but for it to be a learning experience.
The project will tie into students’ science lessons, Cusick said. Students will learn about the life cycles, plant structures, and the water cycle.
Fresh vegetables should also help students’ health. In Cusick’s experience, children are more likely to eat vegetables they help grow.
“You should see how excited kids get for lunch when they know something will have their produce in it,” he said.
Cusick also works with students at Centre Elementary and Junior/Senior High schools, which are the posterchildren for the program, Fast said. USD 397 Superintendent Jerri Kemble told Fast about the program during a Wheat State League meeting.