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UGA students helping get Clarke school gardens ready for fall

Clarke County public school students won’t have to do quite as much garden weeding when school starts up again Aug. 7, thanks to some University of Georgia students.

The UGA students, most of them athletes, spent hours this week picking cucumbers, planting trees and pulling weeds at several Clarke County School District school gardens. The volunteer work was part of the agricultural leadership class they’re taking this summer, which requires 10 hours of service learning. But the students went above and beyond their required work, said Debby Mitchell, a VISTA volunteer who works for UGA’s Office of Service Learning.

“They’re interested in why they’re dong this, not just putting in their hours,” she said.

Under the supervision of UGA horticulture professor David Berle, Mitchell has been working with Clarke County teachers and students in their school gardens. Every school has at least one garden, and some, like Cedar Shoals High School, have more, said Mitchell.

Some of the UGA students had some gardening experience, like women’s basketball player Kaelyn Causwell of Norcross, who’s helped out with her grandmother’s garden in South Carolina.

“I’m surprised how much food they’ve grown and how organized it is,” Causwell said as she helped teammate Erika Ford pick cucumbers.

“I didn’t know they did anything like this,” said Ford.

For others, like volleyball player Elle McCord of Newnan, tending garden is a new venture.

“None whatsoever” describes her experience, said McCord, who helped harvest cucumbers and shovel mulch at Clarke Middle School last week. But she liked what she was learning.

“Gardening’s sort of new to me, but I think helping the schools is really cool,” she said.

Clarke Middle’s garden — just a year old and displayed prominently in front of the school — is not only bursting with ripe cucumbers and okra, but is one of the best-organized in the school district, thanks to parents and students who’ve turned out regularly to help science teacher Cheryl Hinson on monthly volunteer workdays. Hinson oversaw the garden in its first year and is giving up that role to a new agriculture teacher, but hopes to use the garden as an outdoor classroom from time to time.

Other gardens need more work, like Cedar Shoals, where there’s proof that gardens need a lot of weeding before they get established — especially this year.

“It’s been a weedy summer because of the rain,” Mitchell said.

Just three folks showed up for a work day at Cedar Shoals on Saturday — UGA student Amber Braswell and her mother Veronica, along with retired Cedar Shoals teacher Edell Raburn, 87. They abandoned the impossible task of weeding the high school’s new garden patch and instead went to weed the school’s memorial garden, now bursting with ripe blueberries, Mitchell said.

The Green Acres Garden Club started the memorial garden in the 1980s, but now the club only has a handful of active members to help keep up the garden, Raburn told Mitchell.

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