AgEBB-MU CAFNR Extension

Linda Geist
Senior Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group

June 14, 2018

Master Gardener nurtures school garden
that fuels love of food, community, PART 1.

ST. LOUIS - A Master Gardener nurtures little minds and mouths at Sacred Heart Villa, a preschool in St. Louis.

University of Missouri Master Gardener Margaret Grant teaches preschool students to grow what they eat and eat what they grow. The program is in its second year.

The school sits in the heart of The Hill, a predominantly Italian neighborhood on high ground south of Forest Park. Grant and MU Extension educational program coordinator Holly Records designed the berm gardens in the schoolyard.

"It was such fun helping the teachers and students come up with themes for several of the gardens," says Records. There is a Hill garden, dinosaur garden and butterfly garden among the named areas.

The school follows the Reggio Emilia approach, a student-driven educational philosophy that began in post-World War II Italy. The approach focuses on encouraging the child's natural curiosity and potential in less structured settings. This carries over to the gardens.

"The first time I visited Villa, the students and I just dug around in the soil to see what we could find," Records said. "Besides worms, grubs and a centipede, we found several very special rocks that were quickly deposited in the treasure pile."

Early this spring, students planted peas in foam cups. They moved the cups from the classroom to a small greenhouse in the schoolyard. They then transplanted the pea vines to one of more than 20 small berms built by parents and volunteers.

Students learn more than just gardening skills. They research the types plants that will do well in St. Louis' climate. They also choose which herbs to use in their school lunches. Lettuce, peas, tomatoes, figs, grapes, herbs and pollinators are among the diverse offerings.

Each week, students measure and record the growth of their plants, an activity that develops math skills. They hone science skills by learning plant parts. Students learn to treat their plants like babies in need of nurturing with sun, water and care, says Grant.

She uses gardening as a gateway to teach students to eat healthy and try new foods. "I teach them how to make vegetables taste good," Grant says. "I want to get them excited about food."

Records sees the excitement. "Every time I visit Villa with Margaret, a child runs up to her and give her a big hug. "Are we gardening or cooking today, Miss Margaret?"

Grant, a professional chef with a master's degree in environmental sustainability from Webster University, also prepares food for children as part of the classroom routine. The St. Louis Chef de Cuisine Association funds the cooking-in-the-classroom program.

Recently, she cooked "smashy peas," one of her grandson's favorites. She cooked peas and added cream and fresh mint. Most of the children are eager to try new foods. A few are reluctant to experiment, committing only to one pea, but that is how healthy eating begins.

Grant connects the gardening and cooking experiences to the students' heritage. While serving peas, she asked, "Does your mommy put peas in your tortellini?" She has also served squash-stuffed ravioli and homemade mozzarella. She talks about the food's color, aroma, texture and taste.

The cooking sessions and gardens give children, parents, teachers and volunteers a sense of school and community pride. Good gardens and good food grow here.

The themed gardens reflect the Italian neighborhood of tidy shotgun-style homes, bakeries and restaurants. Neighborhood residents, including MU Extension Master Gardeners, often volunteer to mentor children about the fig trees that grow in the school garden. Italian immigrants brought the trees to The Hill from Italy after World War II.

Continue to Part 2 of the story, Click Here.

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

Students at Sacred Heart Villa preschool on The Hill in St. Louis learn how to make 'smashy peas' from chef and Master Gardener Margaret Grant.

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

Students learn math and science as part of their gardening experience. Each week, they measure and record the growth of plants. They research what vegetables to grow in the schoolyard.

Photo available for following caption Photo credit: Linda Geist

Preschool students at Sacred Heart Villa learn gardening skills as part of the school's Outdoor Classroom program. They grow fruits and vegetables for their school lunches in 23 berms in the schoolyard.

Source: Holly Records, 314-577-9442

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