School Gardens Bloom in Nacogdoches

By Jocelyn Moore, SFA Student and Assistant Education Coordinator at SFA Gardens.  Jocelyn was a student in our Fruit and Vegetable Production class.

Need a feel good minute? Watch this short & super sweet video of school gardens in Nac!

I have never seen more joy radiating from children than during their first carrot harvest.  The green, frilly tops popping out of the earth give no indication that a familiar root awaits below.  Almost every time I've witnessed this scene, the child tugs and unearths their prize triumphantly, waving the carrot like a trophy above their head.  This story, amidst countless others unfolding weekly in our school gardens, is just one small example of how and why children are embracing fruits and vegetables.  With this level of engagement, it’s easy to see why garden-based, experiential learning is a powerful tool for teaching a wide range of subjects—from science and math to nutrition and behavior—all of which can be happily gained in the fresh outdoors of the garden.  

As a mother, gardener and outdoor educator for over fifteen years, my experiences have helped shape a vision I hold for the town I call home in rural East Texas.  This vision involves children who understand where their food comes from, value their environment and healthy eating, and engage deeply in stimulating, hands-on education. 


Roots

  3rd grade Garden Bud marvels in her first carrot harvest.

3rd grade Garden Bud marvels in her first carrot harvest.

At first glance, the multitude of school gardens sprouting up around our country appears to be the latest trend in foodie culture.  But school gardens aren’t a fad.  Sure, we see a current upswing of interest; however, educators have long seen the value of children learning in the garden.  

Documented roots of school gardening date back as early as the 1840’s, as author Kate Burt explains “school gardens are a mainstay in the United States” in her article “A Complete History of the Social, Health, and Political Context of the School Gardening Movement in the United States: 1840–2014.”

 

Shoots

Recently, there has been an exciting movement growing in Nacogdoches.  If you haven’t heard about the horticultural happenings in our schoolyards, you are in for a treat of good news.  It has been a truly awesome experience to support the revitalization project at the TJR School Garden, spearheaded by two of the most amazing and dedicated volunteers I know, Jim and Kerry Lemon.  Three years ago, the Lemons had a vision for the empty garden boxes sitting adjacent to the TJR soccer field.  With the support of volunteers from Resilient Nacogdoches and the Austin Heights Earth Care Ministry, the couple created a weekly program serving students during their elective time.  

The Lemon’s vision was fruitful and has inspired offshoots of over a dozen school and community gardens in the 2017-2019 school years.  Wow!

   3rd Grade TJR School Garden Buds harvest fresh mustard greens.

3rd Grade TJR School Garden Buds harvest fresh mustard greens.

  Moore brothers help water the Carpenter Elementary School Garden.

Moore brothers help water the Carpenter Elementary School Garden.

Last year, 3rd grade teacher Mike Moore and I reclaimed the dormant beds at Carpenter Elementary by creating an after school Gardening Club for 22 students.   Fredonia Elementary and Head Start have taken off with raised beds, offering weekly vegetable gardening lessons.  Brooks Quinn Jones Elementary recently received an education grant from Lowe’s.  They have hit the ground running, starting their first edible garden this spring and building an outdoor classroom, Class in the Grass.  At SFA Gardens, we have built a native edibles garden and playscape at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, where we teach weekly gardening and culinary lessons to Boys and Girls Club students.

And the list is growing.  There has been exponential growth this past 2017-2018, with over a dozen new school and community gardens sprouting up in this year alone.

I love Garden Club! I wish we could come to the garden everyday!
— 3rd Grader at Carpenter Elementary

Fruits

Garden-based learning is integrated and so are its benefits.   I have seen students who literally gag at the thought of eating kale on their first day of Garden Club who quickly become happy eaters of Every. Single. Thing. We. Grow.  And yes, I’m even talking about turnips and cauliflower!  Children witness the magic of tiny seeds that sprout bigger each week as they nurture their plants until they begin to recognize actual vegetables, so of course students are eager to eat the fruits of their labor.  Research shows this openness to trying new foods follows students outside of the garden with an increase of daily fruits and vegetable consumption.

  2nd Grader at TJR is excited to try new vegetables at the end of the season Harvest Feast.

2nd Grader at TJR is excited to try new vegetables at the end of the season Harvest Feast.

Beyond improved eating habits and nutrition, children are expected to be team players and learn how to problem solve with their peers.  Garden Buds do meaningful work with real tools; their accomplishment is reflected in their boosted self-esteem.  Furthermore, children and adults alike benefit greatly from getting outside and moving throughout the day.[2]

Moving onto academics, students learn a myriad of topics with a hands-on approach.  Here are few of the 3rd Grade science standards that are easy to imagine learning in the garden (did I mention outside?!):

  3rd FBI (Fungi, Bacteria and Invertebrate) Agents investigate the soil for organic and inorganic matter.

3rd FBI (Fungi, Bacteria and Invertebrate) Agents investigate the soil for organic and inorganic matter.

Learning Science in the Garden:

  • Life cycles
  • Decomposition
  • Weather
  • Parts of a plant
  • Soil and erosion
  • Temperature
  • Matter
  • Water cycle

A children’s garden is full of learning for all ages.  Volunteers and teachers often learn gardening skills right along with their students.  As a bonus, volunteers develop a resilient network that cares for each other and the needs of their community.

 

 

Pollinators

Many partnerships have been formed in the school gardening movement.  SFA student groups and interns have played an important role in supporting volunteer-powered programming.  Nutritionist intern Nathan Slinkard taught students about cooking and healthy eating, developing recipes and nutrition games for students.  Student president of the Environmental Awareness Movement (TEAM), Tom Knapp, spent a semester helping to coordinate SFA student work parties, community events, and implemented a rain catchment system at Carpenter Elementary.

  Volunteers show off their hard work, building rich soil and creating pathways for Nacogdoches Naturally, an afterschool gardening club at the  SFA Gardens Pineywoods Native Plant Center .

Volunteers show off their hard work, building rich soil and creating pathways for Nacogdoches Naturally, an afterschool gardening club at the SFA Gardens Pineywoods Native Plant Center.

Claudann Jones, Shannon Morrison and Ashton Logsdon are All Stars at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, assisting in grants, workshops, consulting, and a myriad of culinary and gardening support! 

  Rachel Payne showing bees to visitors on her homestead.  She brings an observation hive to school gardens for kids to view the bees through a class panel.

Rachel Payne showing bees to visitors on her homestead.  She brings an observation hive to school gardens for kids to view the bees through a class panel.

Rachel Payne, member of the Pineywoods Beekeepers Association, gives her time regularly as a special garden guest showing off bees in a mobile, handmade observation hive.  Pineywoods Permaculture and Theron Beaudreau, holistic land consultant and teacher, lead workshops and service learning projects in the community about organic and holistic gardening methods.

The Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition has helped to connect these folks, and many others, together with monthly meetings.  If you would like to join us for a lunch, speaker and Nac Gardens Alliance meeting, you are welcome!  Please contact Jocelyn Moore at moorejv@sfasu.edu for details.

 

 

Planning for Seasons to Come

How do we ensure that these gardens and children continue to flourish?  While gardeners add fertility to our beds each season to ensure future growth, how can Nacogdoches support the health and longevity of these budding programs?  According to researcher Heather Ohly, who has evaluated existing literature on school gardening programs, she cites that a “lack of funding and over reliance on volunteers” has been a hindrance to long-term viability of these programs…” We’ve seen first-hand in the short history of school gardening in Nacogdoches that teacher, volunteer, and grant-based programs evaporate once those key people are no longer involved.  School gardening volunteers advocate for the importance of paid coordinator positions at the elementary, middle and high school levels to guarantee longevity of the volunteer-driven programs. 

School Gardening Coordinators ensure gardening programs are integrated into daily curriculum and provide continuity throughout grade levels and staff turnovers.
— Elyce Rodewald, SFA Gardens Environmental Coordinator
  SFA Phi Delta Theta worked hard this fall to revamp the beds at Carpenter Elementary. 

SFA Phi Delta Theta worked hard this fall to revamp the beds at Carpenter Elementary. 

There’s plenty of research that illustrates the power in garden-based learning: improved nutrition, physical activity, behavior and academic outcomes. But nothing beats seeing it before your own eyes.  If you’d like to support the ongoing efforts of the Nac Gardens Alliance by volunteering, fundraising, and/or connecting with city officials, please email Jocelyn Moore at moorejv@sfasu.edu.  We also host seasonal work parties: a great way to get exercise, meet new folks, learn something new and serve your community!

To see more photos and inspiration, check out a presentation I shared with the Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition.

Prezzi image.jpg

 

A Tremendous THANK YOU to Volunteers and Grantors!

Resilient Nacogdoches

Pineywoods Permaculture

SFA Gardens

Healthy Nacogdoches Coalition

Keep Nacogdoches Beautiful

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Austin Heights Baptist Church Earth Care Ministry

SFA Phi Delta Theta

SFA TEAM (The Environmental Awareness Movement)

Pine Garden Club

Lowe's Toolbox for Education

Works Cited:

Full, topical bibliography compiled by Emory University graduate student and Nacogdoches School Garden Alliance volunteer Jordan Johnson.

Burt, Kate Gardner. “A Complete History of the Social, Health, and Political Context of the School Gardening Movement in the United States: 1840–2014.” Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. Vol. 11, No. 3. 2016

Berezowitz, Claire K. et al. “School Gardens Enhance Academic Performance and Dietary Outcomes in Children.” Journal of School Health. Vol. 85, No. 8. August 2015

Louv, Richard. “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.” 2005

Ohly, Heather et al. “A systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: synthesis of quantitative and qualitative evidence.” BMC Public Health. Vol. 16, No. 286. 2016.


[1] Berezowitz, Claire K. et al. “School Gardens Enhance Academic Performance and Dietary Outcomes in Children.” Journal of School Health. Vol. 85, No. 8. August 2015

[2] Louv, Richard. “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.” 2005

Growing Asclepias to Aid the Monarchs of North America

By Marcus Alegria

The great 1,500–2,000-mile Monarch migration is one of the most mysterious trademark phenomena of North America. This beautiful butterfly, given its name by early European settlers who named the creature “monarch” after King William, also known as “The Prince of Orange” (Urquhart, 1987), continues to delight gardeners as it makes its journey. However, concerns about its numbers are growing. From 1999 to 2010, Monarch populations have declined by 81%. This drop is due to a decline in milkweed (Asclepias spp.) growing in agricultural fields and an increase in herbicide use because milkweed is considered a weed in agricultural settings (Pleasants & Oberhauser, 2012).

However, a weed it is not! Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars feed on. Without it, the Monarch cannot carry on with its life cycle. Milkweed also attracts other pollinators into the garden when it blooms throughout the year.

Whether you are a gardener, landscape designer, or just like to grow plants on the porch or balcony, you can participate in the conservation of this great species by growing milkweed.

There are various things to consider if you plan on incorporating milkweed into the landscape. Timing is very important because Monarchs absolutely need milkweed during the spring migration (Dole, 2003). It takes three generations in the spring to make the journey to Canada so they need the milkweed to successfully reproduce during this part of the migration. In the fall, only one generation makes the migration South; therefore, they need plants that produce greater numbers of pollen for energy consumption until they get to Mexico. With this in consideration, the most important time to have milkweed in the landscape is during the spring. High pollen producing plants can be grown during the fall (Dole, 2003).

When selecting the species of Asclepias to grow in the landscape, preference should be given to local species because they are better adapted to the environmental factors of the region. You can look at the Biota of North America Program’s Asclepias page to figure out which species grow locally in your region (Monarch Joint Venture, 2017). Since milkweed is native to North America, you can grow any species you want without having to worry about it becoming invasive. It is believed that certain species are poisonous, so it might be a good idea to keep pets away. In Mexico, some people refer to milkweed as “locoweed” because it supposedly causes insanity among livestock (Urquhart, 1987).

  Asclepias tuberosa  flowers in an open field and provides food for Monarch caterpillars. 

Asclepias tuberosa flowers in an open field and provides food for Monarch caterpillars. 

 This picture is of a milkweed species ( Asclepias tuberosa ), shown with its seed pods, that is found in the southeastern region of the United States. When this particular species is in bloom, the flowers are orange!

This picture is of a milkweed species (Asclepias tuberosa), shown with its seed pods, that is found in the southeastern region of the United States. When this particular species is in bloom, the flowers are orange!

Gardeners could also have their garden certified as a Monarch Waystation. For more information regarding Monarch Waystations, you can visit the Monarch Watch website. Another way that you can help Monarchs out is by growing plants that create adequate ground cover around the milkweed. This will make pupation easier and safer for the caterpillar when it reaches this stage. The picture below was taken within a foot of an adjacent milkweed plant where a caterpillar used the grass as cover during pupation. The chrysalis was left behind by a butterfly either during the previous spring or summer.

 The picture above was taken within a foot of an adjacent milkweed plant where a caterpillar used the grass as cover during pupation. The chrysalis was left behind by a butterfly either during the previous spring or summer.

The picture above was taken within a foot of an adjacent milkweed plant where a caterpillar used the grass as cover during pupation. The chrysalis was left behind by a butterfly either during the previous spring or summer.

Agricultural practices and increased urbanization have had a huge impact on the Monarch butterfly’s success in North America. Growing milkweed to aid Monarchs could also serve as an educational benefit to children, growing conservationists, or to the general public. As gardeners, we have the opportunity to participate in the conservation and success of this great species. Every plant makes a little difference!

References

Dole, Claire Hagen. 2003. The Butterfly Gardener’s Guide. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Inc. Brooklyn, NY.

Monarch Joint Venture. 2017. Create Habitat for Monarchs. Retrieved Oct. 5, 2017 from https://monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/create-habitat-for-monarchs/

Urquhart, Fred A. 1987. The Monarch Butterfly: International Traveler. Nelson-Hall Inc., Chicago, IL.

Pleasants, John M. and Karen S. Oberhauser. 2012. Milkweed loss in agricultural fields because of herbicide use: effect on the Monarch butterfly population. Insect Conservation and Diversity. 6: 135-144.

SFA Students Attend IPPS Southern Region 2017 Meeting

Recently, SFA students attended the International Plant Propagators Society Southern Region in Dallas, Texas for a day of educational lectures, inspiring horticulture tours, and great networking.  I asked each of them for three takeaways they had from the experience.

 SFA students Anna Claire, Jade, and Laura stand in front of a pumpkin house at the  Dallas Arboretum 's Wonderful World of Oz. 

SFA students Anna Claire, Jade, and Laura stand in front of a pumpkin house at the Dallas Arboretum's Wonderful World of Oz. 

Anna Claire:

1. I really enjoyed seeing the water retention system at Green Lake Nursery.

2. I also loved the overview and pictures of the gardens in England.

3. I enjoyed learning about different opportunities in the horticulture world and meeting people in the field.

Jade:

1. The first thing that intrigued me was the student presentation over an experiment that tested whether mixing auxin with alcohol caused chemical burns to the plant. I found this interesting because it proved common conceptions to be wrong while also presenting a new reason as to why this burn happens.

2. During our trip to the Dallas Arboretum, I found the trial gardens to be exciting because we are looking at new cultivars that could possibly only be found there. There was also a luffa plant, which is my new found favorite.  

3. Finally, during our tour of Southwest Perennials, I found their propagation process mesmerizing. Seeing those women pump out plugs reminded me of all the small people in the industry and how they are the most important. Without their attention to detail and efficiency the whole business would be in shambles. Overall, while the trip enlightened me on the business aspects of horticulture, it reminded me of the art of horticulture.

Laura:

1. I loved visiting the Southwest Perennials farm. I liked that they stay true to their quality and products and that they work with the city and share the park area in trade.

2. I also loved the Dallas Arboretum. I plan on visiting there again and seeing the whole thing with my children.

3. I enjoyed meeting other people in the industry. It feels very like a very welcoming and genuine industry.

 Pumpkins galore at the Dallas Arboretum

Pumpkins galore at the Dallas Arboretum

 Jenny Wegley (second from right), Dallas Arboretum Vice President of Horticulture Operations and SFA Horticulture alumni, greeted current SFA students and Dr. Jared Barnes at the Dallas Arboretum. 

Jenny Wegley (second from right), Dallas Arboretum Vice President of Horticulture Operations and SFA Horticulture alumni, greeted current SFA students and Dr. Jared Barnes at the Dallas Arboretum. 

 Propagation house at Southwest Perennials

Propagation house at Southwest Perennials

 SFA students were able to see great attention to detail in propagation at Southwest Perennials.

SFA students were able to see great attention to detail in propagation at Southwest Perennials.

 Perky pansies at Green Lake Nursery.

Perky pansies at Green Lake Nursery.

 Green Lake Nursery also specialized in various hardy succulents and xeric perennials.

Green Lake Nursery also specialized in various hardy succulents and xeric perennials.

Written and edited by Jared Barnes, Ph.D.

Student Spotlight: Hunter Walker '17

We are kicking off our horticulture blog with a student spotlight!  A few times a semester, we will highlight SFA Horticulture students that are passionate and will become the future face of the horticulture industry. 

Hunter Walker will graduate in December 2017 with a degree in horticulture. Upon graduation, he will be moving to Oregon to work in the horticulture industry.  We asked him a few questions about his time here at SFA. 

   SFA Horticulture Student Hunter Walker is interviewed by Donna McCollum of KTRE. 

SFA Horticulture Student Hunter Walker is interviewed by Donna McCollum of KTRE. 

  1. What made you decide to come to SFA?  I was born in Lufkin but lived in Dallas my teenage years. I wanted to come back to the Pineywoods.
  2. Tell me about how you became interested in horticulture.   My great-grandmother was a Native American, and we did gardening with her. My mother was also a gardener. 
  3. What are your career goals?  The end goal is to be a garden writer. I want to work in greenhouse management.  I really feel at home in the greenhouse. I want to work with perennials. 
  4. Tell me about any research and/or projects you are currently doing.  I am currently working with Dr. Jared Barnes on renovating the SFA Horticulture shade house. This [project] involves improving our nursery pad growing area and determining optimum plant spacing requirements. There is a focus on plant health, which is important. 
  5. What is your favorite plant today and why?  Prunella vulgaris (all heal). It is grown everywhere and has been used for thousands of years. I really like herbalism. I also like resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). It is hard to pick a favorite!
  6. What other organizations are you involved with at SFA or in the community?  I am the Captain of the Fencing Club, and I helped start Historical European Martial Arts, the sister club to the Fencing Club.  It creates a good outlet for building focus and discipline. 
  7. What were the most useful skills you learned at SFA for your future horticulture career?  People will get hands on learning at SFA.  With the SFA horticulture program, I've learned to harness skills previously unknown to me such as team management, propagation of plants, fertilization techniques, and more that will certainly carry on into my future career.  SFA is going to be more and more recognized in the horticulture industry. ... People in other states recognize SFA as a horticulture school. Students from out of state should want to come here for a degree in horticulture.
  8. What do you like best about Nacogdoches?  The small town feel and the close friends I have made. I will really miss them when I leave. 
  9. What is one piece of advice you would give prospective students?  Stay focused, have a set goal, and don't give up. 
  10. What has been your favorite thing about your time here at SFA?  I have enjoyed being a student worker. I worked in the gardens for more than three years as a greenhouse manager. I got hands-on experience that really helped my resume when job searching. The employers liked that I had actual experience using my degree. I also enjoyed meeting important people in the industry while at SFA like Dr. Jared, Gregg Grant, and Dawn Stover. 

- Interview by Brittnie Barton