How does your garden grow?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012



LAPLACE – Students at three St. John the Baptist Parish schools are working on developing their green thumbs as part of a hands-on gardening curriculum that has them growing their own plants and vegetables.

With the help of the LSU AgCenter and Bayou Land Resource Conservation and Development Council, a non-profit organization that promotes the wise use of natural resources in communities across southeast Louisiana, students at Emily C. Watkins Elementary School, East St. John Elementary School and East St. John High School have access to raised bed gardens right in the school yard. The gardens, which measure 20 feet by five feet, were built in September and October at each school and stocked with various vegetables.

David Pichon, LSU AgCenter county agent for St. John Parish, said the construction and planting was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was administered through the Bayou Land Council. Pichon said he and Jonas Augustine of Bayou Land supervised construction at the schools.

“The idea was to get some of the students out of the classroom and more involved in the actual physical aspects of planting and gardening,” Pichon said. “Many of these students have never done anything like this before, and they are learning valuable skills that can really benefit them.”

Pichon said the schools are using the Junior Master Gardener Curriculum developed by Texas A&M University. The curriculum is designed to meet academic standards for science, through observation of plant growth and soils, and also math, with measurements of the square foot and cubic foot size of gardens.

Jennifer Roberts, program director for Bayou Land, said the organization first got involved with the program in 2010 in Orleans Parish that has now expanded into neighboring regions.

“In addition to the schools in St. John, we also have gardens at four schools in St. Charles Parish,” Roberts said. “Some of the gardens are really impressive as far as production. We are seeing quite a variety of vegetables and plants being grown, and the students are fascinated.”

Pichon said each school in St. John Parish has a garden coordinator and a committee of faculty to supervise the growing and maintenance of the plants and also come up with lessons to involve the garden in classroom activities.

At East St. John Elementary, fifth-grade teacher Kelly Perret and 4-H leader and art teacher Sandra Guillot supervise use and maintenance of the school garden there. Perret said the garden was constructed, filled with soil and planted by her fifth-grade class back in October.

“We have carrots, cabbage, mustard greens, turnips and romaine lettuce,” Perret said. “Even though they were just planted in October, we have already had some great production out of it, especially from the cabbage and greens.”

Perret said her students have had lessons on the different parts of the plants as well as how different vegetables grow in different ways.

“Some grow up out of the ground. Others grow like roots,” Perret said. “The students are developing an understanding of plant life that they never had before. They are really taking a lot out of this.”

The gardens at East St. John High School and Emily C. Watkins Elementary were constructed and planted in early September. In addition to the same plants planted at East St. John Elementary, the other gardens also planted tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, beets and radish.

Pichon said there are plans are to expand the school garden program to several other schools in St. John Parish, but sponsors are needed to pay for construction materials and garden supplies. Businesses or individuals interested in sponsoring a garden at another school should contact Pichon at 985-497-3261 or by email at dpichon