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FEATURED ARTICLE

Can You Grow a Pizza? Big Questions in the Garden

By HEIDI REVELO

garden"Miss Heidi, can you grow a pizza?" asked 13-year-old Jenifer at the first Children"'s Garden in Lexington, Nebraska. The sign stapled to the side of the garden box said "Pizza Garden" which was next to "Peter Rabbit Garden,""Salsa Garden"and "Vegetable Tray Garden." The sun was climbing in the sky and the middle school enrichment summer school students were sweaty although it was only 9:15 a.m.  A dozen students watered the 30+ garden boxes and vining plants area, planted tomato plants and pulled up weeds.

"Well, no," Miss Heidi answered wanting to laugh and smack the heel of her hand on her forehead to say, "What kind of question is that!" Instead she asked Jenifer a question. "Tell me, what"'s in a pizza?" Now Jenifer was joined by two more girls. They hesitated and then one had an answer. "Sauce!"

"What is sauce made of?" asked Miss Heidi. The girls were silent. They didn"'t know. "The sauce is made from tomatoes," explained Miss Heidi before there was an uncomfortable silence, but still giving them a few moments to consider it. The girls looked at her in amazement. "What else is on a pizza?" asked Miss Heidi.

garden"Hamburger"

"Okay, but that"'s meat. Besides hamburger, sausage or other meat, what else do some people eat on their pizza?"

"Pepperoni!"

"Well, that"'s a meat."

"It is?" asked Jenifer.

"Do you ever eat onion on your pizza?"asked Miss Heidi.

"Yes" the girls affirmed, nodding.

"Onions are a vegetable and they are growing in our garden over here. See?" said Miss Heidi, pointing to thin long green stems poking through the dirt in a V. The girls looked more intently at the onions. "The onions are under the ground. They are just starting to grow, but they will be big like a baseball at the end of the summer. What else do you eat on pizza?" The girls went on to discuss green peppers, jalapeno peppers and mushrooms. Lexington, Nebraska is in the heart of the breadbasket. Step over the city limits and there are fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. How could middle school students be so disconnected between the foods they eat every day and where the foods originate?

Heidi Revelo, Director of Keep Lexington Beautiful, volunteered to help with this project anticipating city beautification turning an empty lot donated by the Presbyterian Church into a community garden. Four of six schools were within walking distance of the garden so it was very accessible and classroom lessons could be reinforced with a quick walk to the garden.  The City of Lexington provided free compost and wood chips. The Lexington Regional Hospital ran the program through the Community Fitness Initiation. The high school students gardenplanted seeds in the school greenhouse which were transplanted into the garden.  State of Nebraska taught middle school classes on nutrition to reinforce positive eating habits as children grew their own veggies. Children's Community Garden is a community-wide effort. It's sustainable with all of the partnerships. It's an educational wonderland.  Elementary-aged classes planted garden boxes. Middle school planted and provided much of the maintenance. As the saying says"seeds were planted!"

Revelo anticipated youth having questions about how to plant seeds/plants, identifying herbs,  a few squeamish moments  digging into the dirt and many questions of "When will it be done growing so we can pick it?" Revelo did not anticipate questions such as: 1. Potatoes grow under the ground? Gross! Even French fries?  2. Why do you plant peas by a fence? 3. When we come back next week, will the watermelon be ready to eat? 4. Why do we always have to water?

"I like to answer questions with questions," said Revelo. "I like to make kids think and problem-solve. In today"'s world kids have information overload. What they don't always experience is problem-solving or answering questions such as "˜how"' and "˜why". On the walk back to the middle school the entire class joined the conversation which went on to discuss where cheese comes from, the herbs growing in the garden which also end up on a pizza and how grains grow in fields and end up in the crust.

garden"The kids really like the garden," explained Patricia Stewart, Director of Multiple Choices middle school program which enriches and challenges youth. "They like the quiet." This is class so there are no cell phones or music. "They talk about how they aren't expected to be writing, reading or doing something. They can dig in the dirt, water and look at the plants."

A middle school boy announced to Miss Heidi, "We are going to have visitors at the garden today." Grandpa, 75, walked with a cane. Grandma couldn't leave the pickup because of her need for oxygen. "See grandpa?" said the boy as his eyes lit up. He skipped over to Grandpa and pulled him into the garden. "We've had him since he was six weeks old," explained Grandpa as he and the boy walked all over the garden, Grandpa identifying plants, asking his grandson about plants and telling him how proud he was of his grandson. 

Miss Heidi invited them to be sure and stop back anytime during the summer to check on the plants and to pick any produce they find.  The boy was busting with pride. He had long talks with Grandpa and they were planning a smaller garden at home in the backyard.  The academic lesson was translated into action and the "school lesson" was transferring home. In academic circles that means: A+.


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