Nine-year-old Kennedy Dent knows that she likes strawberries. Peas, on the other hand, are a different story.
“I don’t like peas, but I like strawberries,” the Akron third-grader confessed. She planted both along with some peppers on Thursday as part of the new teaching garden at the Schumacher Community Learning Center.
Dent also had a keen idea why her school was planting the garden: “It’s for us to be healthy,” she said.
And with that response alone, the garden already is on its way to fulfilling its mission of helping children develop healthy eating habits.
Students at the West Akron school spent several hours Thursday planting the garden with a variety of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, peas, parsley, cilantro and strawberries, along with some zinnias.
Third-grader Daijon Pitts, 10, planted yellow cherry tomatoes, while 8-year-old Tamika Gates, also in third grade, said she didn’t even mind getting her hands a little dirty to help plant the strawberries and peppers she put in.
The teaching garden is a joint venture between the Akron Public Schools, the American Heart Association and Summa Health System, and is intended to be exactly that — a teaching tool to help show students where fruits and vegetables come from and how they can form the basis for a lifetime of healthy eating.
The garden comes with an accompanying curriculum for teachers and serves as a living laboratory for the lessons, said Roxia Boykin, vice president of community benefit and diversity for Summa Health System.
A group of community volunteers met at the school earlier this month, built 10 raised planting beds and filled them with soil to prepare for Thursday’s planting day and dedication.
Brandi Davis, principal of Schumacher, said the garden will be used for students in kindergarten through third grade. “I hope that it instills good eating habits and nutritional information for the students to take home and share,” Davis said.
She noted that the garden is good preparation for the younger grades who will have the Veggie U curriculum when they enter fourth grade. The nonprofit Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan sponsors Veggie U, a program that teaches children about nutrition, the importance of making wise food choices and the concept of sustainable agriculture.
The Schumacher building is just 2 years old and the staff has been stressing with the students the importance of taking care of their new school. Davis said she is hoping that caring for the garden will foster a sense of responsibility in the children for caring for the school property inside and out.
“It has inspired me to want to go home and plant a garden of my own,” she added.
Students, parents, teachers, staff and community volunteers will sign up for one-week shifts to help tend the garden throughout the summer vacation so that it is ready for harvest when students return in the fall.
Alice Luse, regional director of the American Heart Association, said the younger children are when they learn healthy eating habits, the better.
She said the association is sponsoring another teaching garden this year at Richardson Elementary School in Cuyahoga Falls, and hopes to offer more gardens each year at different area schools.
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.