Last year, thanks to a grant from the Conway Public Schools Foundation, students and staff at Carolyn Lewis Elementary School started a school garden. They were able to watch the garden process from start to finish. They chose a location for their school garden, cleared the area, worked on the beds, tilled the soil, decided what to plant, planted the seeds, watered and cared for the seeds, took care of the plants, then harvested their "crops." It was such a wonderful learning experience for the teachers and the students, many of whom had never seen a vegetable come out of the ground before. Some of the kids were amazed that potatoes actually grew in the dirt, or that tomatoes were the source of ketchup! Teachers at Carolyn Lewis came up with endless lessons using tools from the garden, everything from math problems (How many lettuce plants can you plant in this square section?) to science (How do seeds grow?) to writing. (What have you learned most from doing the school garden?)

Now this year, they are excited to take their garden project one step further. Organizers applied for and received another grant, this time from the Conway Regional Women’s Council, to create and open up the "Garden Café." This new "restaurant" inside one of the school’s classrooms will feature foods grown right there in the CLES garden. They will serve their locally grown veggies to their students, and others, and even hope to possibly make profits to put back into the garden project. This will allow them to see how a marketplace works and show them the hard work it takes to be successful in business.

School gardens like this are now a growing activity here in Conway. Late last fall, Conway Schools was awarded a farm-to-school grant that has allowed us to plant gardens in several more of our schools. It is our goal to have gardens in all 9 of our elementary schools and many of our other campuses as well. It has been fun to watch these other gardens come to life this fall. Again, teachers and students have worked hard to get them started. Once planted, classes have taken turns caring for the garden so it will grow. Our teachers are maximizing the learning opportunities possible with the school gardens. Many times students get to go outside to enjoy a non-traditional lesson outside the four walls of the classroom. They can learn with their hands and actually see the lesson happening.

There are so many things I love about the school garden projects. I love the hands on learning, and cooperative learning. I love the cross-curricular lessons and the partnership with food service. I love the focus being put on healthier eating. For many of our students, this is the first time they have been exposed to some of these vegetables, even getting to "taste test" them. The hope is they can develop habits to take home with them that will last for their lifetimes.

I also love the analogy of the garden. It teaches students to work hard, to not be afraid of getting their hands dirty. It shows them that sometimes even when it looks like nothing is happening, something is indeed happening. We all have to learn to wait for the proper harvest time. Beneath the soil, a seed buried far below is growing, and it will come bursting forth at the due time. We have to be willing to plant the seed, then wait…to put in the work, then pause for the results. Even when it might be longer than we want, or not exactly what we want, or cost us a little more than what we want. The harvest is always exciting, to see the work of our hands come up out of the ground. The waiting is not always where the excitement lies, but it’s in the waiting that we sometimes learn an important truth. Our teachers can teach our kids this important lesson- that the waiting is worth it. Kids can see that hard work and planning results in a harvest. This is a tangible way to show that. And then they get to eat it. That’s fun too!