The Crabapple Middle School “Learn and Serve Garden” grew from a seed of an idea via science teachers Glenn Mize and Jeanetta Lewisand and language arts teacher Shelley Merritt.
The trio wanted to bring their lessons to life in the garden by giving students “get-your-hands-dirty” earth science experiences while giving back to the local community. Mize wanted students to experience science beyond the books, coupling what he learned in the garden from his father and grandfather. He wanted kids to see “the miracle” of how one seed from a dead plant can be planted to produce a vine that spreads out across the garden and bears fruit to feed hundreds.
CMS sixth graders plant the garden during “Go Green Day” in the spring and a dedicated group of parents, teachers and students, water, weed and harvest the garden throughout the summer and the fall.
Early morning gardener and science teacher Brittany Donley reports that, “Students now have a visual of plant cycles as well as learning to serve [their] community.”
Donley’s enthusiasm for the garden is evident when she talks of the never-ending instruction concepts she can transplant from the garden into the curriculum. The garden is used as a teaching tool, covering the expected earth science topics, with the added bonus of growing fruits, herbs and vegetables that can be shared with the local community.
Produce is donated to the North Fulton Community Charities food pantry located on Elkins Road in Roswell. To date, the school has donated 1,093 pounds - overhalf a ton - of fresh zucchini (affectionately called “Super Zukes” by the school because they are so big), yellow squash, tomatoes, basil, okra, beans, peppers, and the locally famous, Mr. Mize’s Mega Melons. The biggest, a 40-pound watermelon, was delivered to NFCC at the beginning of the school year by Mize himself.
NFCC Volunteer Coordinator Kevin Tracy is grateful for the harvest that is shared with NFCC families. He has told the school that the families who come to NFCC cannot afford to buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Therefore, what Crabapple Middle School brings to their table is a luxury. Tracy noted that many families who come to them are on dietary restrictions because of medical conditions. Some of these folks are on chemotherapy and sometimes cannot eat canned foods due to the traces of metal, such as aluminum, which interfere with chemo.
“To these families,” he says, “the fresh produce from your garden is a blessing.”
A grant from the state of Georgia helped provide start-up funds two years ago. However, the garden is now sustained by a dedicated group of teachers, parents and students with a little sweat, a lot of ingenuity and a little bit of PTA funding. Liz Rains, life-long gardener, parent and PTA Chair of “Go Green Day,” envisions the garden to “become a part of the everyday curriculum at CMS.”
The learning potential is so great for the garden that it transcends science and has opportunities for math, social studies, language arts, as well as service to the community.
“We fed a lot of families this summer. It is such an incredible feeling to produce something that has a purpose,” Rains adds.
Dr. Nathan Buhl, CMS Principal agrees, “The Learn and Serve garden is a prime example of students demonstrating in a tangible way the benefits of using their knowledge and resources to make a difference in the local community. Leveraging resources to impact the world around them, is a quality we want to instill in our students.”
Staff and PTA parents love hearing kids say, “Wow! I planted that!” as a new seventh-grader did when he saw the garden for the first time this school year as his social studies teacher used an outdoor classroom nearby.