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UGA middle school garden program expands beyond Athens-Clarke County

An award-winning interactive Clarke County school program that teaches students about science and nutrition is now underway in Barrow County, thanks to the University of Georgia.

The Grow It Know It program, established in 2013 by the Office of Service-Learning, UGA Cooperative Extension, UGArden and the Clarke County School District (CCSD) is designed to support teachers involved in farm-to-school programming.

UGA alumnus Alyssa Flanders, now a teacher at Russell Middle School in Barrow County, volunteered at Clarke Middle School when she was at UGA studying agricultural education. There she helped in the school garden, growing fresh fruits and vegetables to offer in the cafeteria and helping students learn about agriculture and healthy eating.

When she learned that Grow It Know It was expanding to counties outside of Clarke County, she jumped at the chance to work with the program once again.

“You can’t have a school garden by yourself. It really takes a village,” Flanders says. “You need expert knowledge, materials, construction, all the support you can get.”

School gardens are living, breathing outdoor classrooms for students to apply what they learn in science classes to real life. Through Grow It Know It students better understand animal science, wildlife management, mechanics, and the many processes behind not only growing food, but what it takes to get food on shelves at the grocery store.

“You don’t only have a school garden one or two teachers utilize, but a school garden that is part of everything you do at the school,” says Alicia Holloway, UGA Cooperative Extension agent in Barrow County. “All the students and teachers utilize it, and the education isn’t just about gardening, but everything associated with it, like sustainability, health, and careers in agriculture.”

Andie Bisceglia, the USDA grant coordinator for Grow It Know It, said the idea to expand the program beyond Clarke County began taking shape about a year ago. Holloway’s established relationships with the school’s teachers, local farmers and businesses made Barrow County a natural fit for the program.

“When we received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we started planning and asking questions” she says. “Would the model work as well somewhere else? Could we spread it through the state?”

At Clarke Middle School, students learn about animal science with help from goats and chickens.

In Clarke County, the Office of Service-Learning places AmeriCorps VISTAs at each of the four middle schools to oversee the Grow It Know It programs. This year, AmeriCorps VISTA Joshua Truitt, was placed at Russell Middle School in Barrow County.

“After graduating, I was torn between teaching and extension work,” Truitt says. “This is the perfect fit for me because I get to work with kids and agriculture.”

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and master’s degree in agriculture and environmental education from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in spring 2018. He recently helped the students in Flanders’ class use a drill to make raised beds for vegetable gardens.

Joshua Truitt, VISTA member, helps Flanders’ eighth grade class assemble a frame for a garden bed.

“It was my first time using a drill,” said Iyanna Green, eighth grader. “It was super satisfying to actually make something with my hands.”

The plant beds will house spinach, chard, radishes and collard greens—vegetables that could be served in the school cafeteria. Flanders believes students are more likely to sample healthy options if they were involved in planting them.

“Now more than ever, people want to know where their food is coming from,” she says. “It’s important to teach students food doesn’t just magically appear at Walmart or Publix. It takes so much knowledge and resources to grow food properly and safely.”

In a summer camp, students in Clarke Middle School work in the school garden to harvest, plan, prep and serve lunch once a week.

In October, CCSD was awarded the Golden Radish Innovative Partnership Award from Georgia Organics, for its partnership with Grow It Know It in Clarke County middle schools. Diana Cole, a Barrow County school teacher involved in the Grow It Know It program, won the Golden Radish Teacher of the Year award. Georgia Organics is a statewide organization that raises awareness of the benefit of organic farming and connects organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families.

Writer: Leah Moss, 706-583-964

Contact: Andie Bisceglia  706-542-2461

Photographer: Shannah Montgomery

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