In the middle of a carpeted, first-grade classroom, a garden full of carrots, apple trees, corn, and sunflowers sprout up.  Granted, the plants were first-graders who were “magically” turned into fruits and vegetables, but the students were still learning valuable lessons about gardening.

This week I had the opportunity to shadow MFC educator, Kristi Pursell at Vista View Elementary School in Burnsville as Midwest Food Connection’s, Planning your Garden lesson, with three energetic first-grade classrooms.  Remembering what they learned last week from Ms. Kristi, the students enthusiastically shouted out the five essential elements for growing healthy plants: sun, space, soil, seeds, and water.  The concepts were reinforced this week as Kristi made a snack out of pumpkin seeds and lead an interactive activity about planning a healthy garden.

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In each class, we would ask the students for examples of plants that grow in gardens in Minnesota and hands would shoot up. I was surprised and encouraged at how much the first graders knew about gardening and basic plant science.  I learned later that Vista View Elementary has a school garden that the students help with.  Many students also told me later that they have gardens at home and help their parents.

During the last class of the day, Kristi asked if I wanted to lead the garden planning activity.  I was nervous to be leading my first activity, but the student’s knowledge and enthusiasm made it go smoothly.  After assigning one student to be the sun, I asked for volunteers to tell me plants that grow in Minnesota.  After a student told me, they would magically transform into their plant and with the class’s help, we would place the plant where it would receive the most sunlight but not block any other plants.  After reminding the class only once about making sure all plants have equal access to the sun, the class would guide the student/plants to the best spot in our “garden.” Soon we had a classroom full of tomatoes, carrots, corn, sunflowers, apple trees, and strawberries.

When the students went back to their desks to work on their gardening journals, their assignment was to draw a garden with plants of their own choosing that followed the gardening guidelines we had just discussed.  Again, I was encouraged and surprised at the students’ knowledge.  The students drew more than just what we had talked about in a big group; they showed me pictures of cucumbers, watermelon, pumpkins and peppers.

Walking around and helping while the students worked on their independent lessons and drawings was one of my favorite parts of being in the classroom because the students told me stories about their own gardens and how they help their parents and grandparents make food.  While I haven’t spent extended amounts of time in any classroom this semester, I can tell there is something unique about MFC lessons that excites the students and opens their minds to the natural world.

Asking the students to try new foods helps to reinforce the idea of being open to the world.  More students than I could count told me the pumpkin seed snack was their new favorite snack and that they couldn’t wait to share it with their families.  One student told me he didn’t like the smell, but he tried the snack anyway and found out he liked the taste.  Simple lessons like being open to trying new foods or activities and being excited to learn are positive outcomes that MFC brings to classrooms even if those lessons aren’t stated.  Hopefully, those lessons, along with the curriculum lessons are remembered for years to come.

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