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Second-graders pick rosemary at Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans in April 2016. The Edible Schoolyard program connects schools with gardens along with culinary and nutrition classes.

advocate file photo by SOPHIA GERMER

Many of us remember the elementary school lesson where each student is given a few beans, a plastic sandwich bag and a damp paper towel. Children put the paper towel neatly into the bag and “plant” their beans on the damp surface. After a few days, the bean seedlings are carefully transferred to small paper cups full of soil with students' names on them. After a few more days on the classroom windowsill, each student has a few bean seedlings to take home.

School projects that teach children about the magic of growing things can make impressions that last a lifetime. A tiny seed grows into a plant, which produces seeds or food or flowers. A small start can grow into something truly amazing. Other lessons can easily be tied to gardening, and schools that incorporate school gardens in their curriculum are part of a growing trend.

Nationwide, there are more than 7,000 school garden programs, according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census. The New Orleans area is home to several successful school gardens, which teach students how to grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs. Often these lessons are tied to other subjects, such as biology, art, culinary science and mathematics.

Many things that happen in the garden are also teachable moments. Insects and other creatures are attracted to the gardens, which are interesting to learn about. Produce grown can be eaten by students, which helps to introduce them to new flavors and foods at a young age, improving their healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.

The LSU AgCenter is working with local schools in the New Orleans area to help them get gardens started and set up for success. Growing food within the tight confines of the school calendar is challenging, as is the restricted use of chemicals within all school environments.

A “School Garden Boot Camp” is planned for Dec. 9, at Longue Vue House & Gardens. from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is $20 per person and includes lunch and all of the LSU AgCenter school garden publications on a flash drive. The first 20 participants will be enrolled free of charge.

Teachers, school administrators and other educators are invited to attend. This all-day event will help to troubleshoot many of the problems that school gardens face and to set new and existing programs on track to succeed. For more information, email the LSU AgCenter at gnogardening@agcenter.lsu.edu.

Q: I’m interested in becoming a Master Gardener. I live in New Orleans. When is your next class and how do I sign up? - Kim

A: The Master Gardener class is a great way to build on your existing gardening skills. There is a yearly course offered in the New Orleans area, and residents of Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes are invited to apply.

Classes meet for 11 weeks in the summer, typically from mid-June through August. Classes met this year on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the New Orleans Botanical Gardens from 9 a.m. until noon. The students took a weekly quiz, a final exam and gave oral presentations on a range of gardening topics.

A large part of the Master Gardener program is giving back to the community and educating the public. After graduating, the new Master Gardeners in training complete 40 hours of volunteer service at Master Gardener projects in our area.  

Applications for the class typically go out in the spring, and classes are limited to 30 students. To receive an application, email gnogardening@agcenter.lsu.edu.

Questions for the Ag Center agents? Please send an email to agcenter@theadvocate.com.