Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 5, 2013

How does your garden grow? With grant money and elbow grease

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Thanks to a $3,100 grant and elbow grease provided by volunteers, students at West Side Elementary are creating vegetable and flower beds at their school that will serve as inspiration for learning about art and science.

“This has been a dream for a long time,” said Carolyn Cornelius, West Side's art and science teacher who overseeing the project. “It just came about once we got the Lowe's grant.”

In January, the school was notified that it received a Toolbox for Education grant from the building supply company to help create a sustained garden project.

“The mission of the Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation is to improve the communities we serve, and we are committed to having a positive impact on the lives of our customers, neighbors and employees,” Lowe's Community Relations Director Joan E. Higginbotham said in an award letter dated Jan. 9. “We applaud your dedication to improving the schools in your community.”

On Saturday, volunteers – among them West Side faculty, parents, students and even the principal – joined hands to create six raised-bed gardens at the campus. Four will be vegetable gardens, while the remaining two are dedicated to a wildflower garden and a butterfly/humming bird garden.

“Because the students won't see summer crops, we're doing spring crops, then we'll prep the beds (to grow vegetables) year-round,” Cornelius said.

The project has been in the making for the past couple of years, employing scientific means and research to determine the best way to do it.

While the school has planted gardens before, “we had some serious drainage issues,” Cornelius said. “I'd heard about the raised beds through one of our mothers, and through the Cherokee county Master Gardeners and Kim Benton (the county's horticulture extension agent).”

Using data compiled by students who tracked the sun's path across the campus for two years, Benton and the master gardeners helped layout the beds to maximize growing conditions.

Former West Side students who are part of the high school's ag program helped till the ground for the beds, and will help construct a greenhouse, said Principal Sandi Jones.

The plan is to let the beds settle over spring break, which falls next week, then hopefully start planting seedlings if conditions allow, she added.

Plants have been donated by various contributors, making the gardens a true community project.

“It's just like family,” said Amanda Childress, whose children are in first and fourth grades at West Side. “People just want to help – they jump in.”

In their spring garden, children will plant tomatoes, crook-neck squash, zucchinis and peppers; the fall garden will have vegetables like greens, pumpkins, broccoli – “things like that,” Cornelius said.

Until their greenhouse is available, Childress has proposed using hoops to create low tunnels covered in plastic to protect the plants.

“It will be like greenhouses over the beds themselves,” said Childress, a gardener herself. “They can grow year-round.”

The vegetable gardens will serve as a learning project about science and nutrition, while the flower beds are fodder for art projects.

“Teaching butterflies, I can put that up on my big blackboard, or broadcast it right there (by computer), but to be right there and see it (for themselves), there's so many learning possibilities, so many opportunities that this is going to open up for our students,” Cornelius said. “It's not just a science project, but it becomes about art, also.”

Once the garden is sown, it will come back every year, she said; “this is something I hope goes on long after I retire.”