Feb. 19, 2015. A project is underway to support garden-based education in Watauga County. The Lettuce Learn Project is a collaborative effort that will help schools and teachers to create outdoor classrooms. By providing garden coordinators, training opportunities, and a resource-sharing network, the project aims to give teachers the support they need to plant, tend, harvest, and utilize school gardens.
What started as a pilot project at the Appalachian State University Child Development Center in 2014 will expand to three elementary schools — Parkway, Bethel, and Mountain Pathways – beginning in March 2015 if the needed funding becomes available. Lettuce Learn is building a network of supporters for the larger goal of supporting teachers and outdoor classrooms and has launched a “BarnRaiser” campaign during February and March to help them reach their goals.
Gardens can serve as a platform to teach a variety of important academic lessons from math, science, language arts, social studies, nutrition, and art – to broader goals such as sustainability education, holistic and systems thinking, food systems, teamwork, patience, and community citizenship. Lettuce Learn believes it is imperative to offer students an opportunity to learn such lessons in an outdoor, experiential setting that is intimate with place. The project is eager to help schools, teachers, and child care centers turn that idea into a reality.
The Lettuce Learn founder and director, Courtney Baines Smith says, “Our pilot garden at the ASU Child Development Center has taught us much about the benefits and challenges of gardening with children. It’s incredible to see how much the children learn about ecology, cooking, and gardening within such a short exposure time in the garden. Parents have reported significant gains in nutritional and ecological literacy.”
It’s helpful that the university has been supportive of the project, Baines Smith said. She and her team have received multiple grants and a few donations to keep the on-campus garden project growing. The ASU Sustainability and Environmental Education Club (SEEC) and the Appalachian Student Dietetic Association (ASDA) were awarded a $1,500 ASU Renewable Energy Institute Club Collaboration Grant to expand the garden, build an outdoor classroom, offer a tool lending service, and further develop the cooking demonstration capacity of the garden.
The garden leadership was also awarded a $500 Creating a Healthy, Just, Sustainable Student Research Grant from the ASU’s Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics to build a solar-powered tool shed and to develop and implement a garden, energy, and sunshine unit appropriate for early childhood.
Plans are underway to showcase the use of these funds during an Earth Month and Greening My Plate Celebration on April 24 with a DIY Solar Oven Green Pizza extravaganza.
In addition to expanding its reach by training and providing garden coordinators through the Lettuce Learn internship and grandparent garden mentor programs at Parkway, Bethel, and Mountain Pathways, a three-day garden-based training workshop will be offered for local teachers and childcare professionals July 20-22. The workshop will introduce participants to the benefits and basics of garden-based education as well as provide opportunities to design and practice garden-based lesson ideas. Further details and registration will be available on the Lettuce Learn website in March.
“Through experience and research, it has been useful to find out what works and what seems like a good idea but is difficult in practice. We are eager to share these lessons with other garden educators while learning from their stories as well,” Baines Smith said.