Growth, in education terms, is a concept associated with gaining knowledge and the passing from one grade level to another. At Plymouth Creek Elementary School, growth takes on its other common meaning. While the students are expanding their vocabulary and sprouting a couple of inches over the course of the school year, the seeds they have planted in their beloved school garden are spreading their roots and blossoming just the same.
In 2014, third-grade teacher Marc Wegner put his dream school project into action: establish a shared school garden. Inspired by clean eating movements like those on the TV show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Wegner had been thinking about ways to introduce students to nutrition and environmental stewardship. “I also thought it would be valuable for the students to be able to do something hands-on that could connect back to something they’re learning in the classroom,” he says.
Wegner wasn’t the only one who thought this idea had value. When he announced the school project, he was greeted with countless helping hands. Twelve 6x1x1-foot beds, and two 8x10x1-foot beds were put together by students, parents, community members and even help from Wayzata High School students and staff. “The woodshop program at the high school had the wood we needed for the beds,” Wegner says. “It was a huge help to size and cut all of the wood.”
Before any ground was broken, the community played a large role in raising funds for the garden as well. Though the initial money was provided by the Plymouth Creek PTO, the school was able to double the physical size of the garden in 2015 when it received a $2,000 grant from Whole Foods as a result of one parent’s tireless grant-writing efforts. Another parent with graphic design expertise offered to design a logo for the garden. “Its whole creation and existence has been truly collaborative,” Wegner says.
That collaboration has made the garden what it is today: a colorful outdoor classroom, primed for teamwork and discovery. Each grade level works with the garden in different ways; the kindergartners have a fall pumpkin-themed unit complete with a visit to a large pumpkin patch, while the third-graders work more closely with learning in-class curriculum, including plant growth and structure. The fifth-graders have the most responsibility with planning the garden, and Wegner envisions working out a way to have the students grow plants indoors during the winter and transplant them outdoors in the spring.
If an overarching goal was to steer kids toward nutritious eating, the garden is doing a great job. “We actually have parents tell us that their kids come home and ask to eat vegetables,” third-grade teacher Jill Freshwaters says.
This insight is less surprising when Wegner rattles off the long roster of the garden’s tenants. It holds veggies of every sort—pumpkins and squash grow into the fall, alongside the garden-variety farmers market favorites. This past summer, the garden was full of the fresh salsa ingredients—tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, basil, green beans, corn and cilantro. Wegner rallies students and volunteers to do summer harvest, canning the ingredients in preparation for the salsa party that will take place at the annual Barn Dance, when everyone will be able to taste the final product of the seeds they sowed.
“The look on the faces of the kids when they are able to see, hold, even taste what they have created is incredible,” Wegner says. “Who knew a carrot could be the reason for a smile like that?”