After schools in West Feliciana Parish closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools had to decide what to do with their gardens.

LSU Agricultural Center area nutrition agent Layne Langley, who teaches nutrition and gardening at Bains Lower Elementary School, and Lanya Mayer, the school’s Play 60 physical education coach, saw an opportunity.

“Due to the unforeseen school closures, harvesting the produce became a concern,” Langley said. “Since we didn’t want the produce to go to waste, Lanya suggested donating the harvest to the West Feliciana Food Pantry.”

Students had been growing an “ABC garden” this year, where they planted items that can be used in an alphabet vegetable soup.

Langley and Mayer guided kindergartners and first graders in planting radishes, turnips, English peas and green onions. In October, the students planted carrots. Langley also taught the students about the five food groups of the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate.

“On Monday, May 4, Lanya and her college-age son, Ashton Verdicanno, harvested the carrots at Bains Lower Elementary,” Langley said. “After leaving the school, she made a stop at the local grocery store, where she ran into a few of her students and parents of her students and shared some of the carrots with them.”

Mayer contacted Bettye Martin at the West Feliciana Food Pantry to offer the rest of the carrot harvest.

“Since Wednesdays are ‘produce days’ at the pantry, the date was set,” Langley said. “Wednesday, May 6, was a bittersweet day for both of us.”

Although they were unable to watch the 350 children harvest their carrots and see their reactions, Langley and Mayer both knew that sharing the harvest with the residents of West Feliciana Parish would be greatly appreciated.

They were touched to hear how excited the pantry volunteers were to get the carrots.

“The West Feliciana Food Pantry serves 375 client families, seeing each family once every two months,” Langley said.

Each family receives a box of nonperishables and a box of miscellaneous items such as juice, fresh produce, canned meat, nuts, lentils, rice, crackers, powered milk, eggs and bread.

The pantry is open the first and third Thursday of each month for distribution.

“The food pantry could not serve who it does without the help of volunteers,” Langley said. “They like giving to the community and working with each other.”

For information about the nutrition and school garden programs at Bains Lower Elementary, contact Langley at (225) 635-3614 or at lalangley@agcenter.lsu.edu.