Middle School Garden Brings Fresh Ideas—
and Food—to Campus
Something new was cooking in the Middle School this year —a Gardening & Cooking elective whose students planted a real working garden behind the 5th- and 6th-grade science room. On a recent morning, four 6th-grade girls were preparing a salad and talking about what other dishes they could create from the vegetables and herbs in the garden.
The brainchild of 6th-grade English teacher Taylor Nelson, the class met once a week, every Thursday, throughout the school year. The three elective sessions were each a little different, depending on the season and the planting and harvesting cycle.
The first group set up the garden using "Woolly Meadows,” raised beds made of a felt material created from recycled plastic bottles. According to Mrs. Nelson, the Meadows provide several advantages for school gardens.
“The soil can be richer and more controllable, it’s easier to irrigate, and they keep the animals out,” she said. The Meadows were made and donated by Woolly Pocket, a local company that specializes in consumer- and earth-friendly gardening supplies. The company also sponsors a thriving school-garden program to help students learn about gardening and nutrition in the classroom.
The first trimester class planted the garden, including broccoli, onions, lettuce, chard, squash, peppers, basil, cilantro, thyme, and parsley. The second trimester group maintained the plants, keeping the Meadows clean and weed-free. They focused on cooking with ingredients from the garden and also were able to share many of their “crops” with the entire PCDS campus. In February, an email from PCDS Food Service Director Robyn Kunze announced that the Middle School garden had provided several ingredients for that day’s lunch service: arugula, basil, spring onions, chard, romaine lettuce, and carrots. In her email, Ms. Kunze also included a recipe for a “light and easy arugula salad” for faculty and staff to enjoy at home.
The third trimester group cleaned up the garden, cultivated and prepared the soil, and planted the final crop of the school year, including tomatoes, peppers, thyme, onions, basil, and cilantro. When we visited the class, students were slicing tomatoes from their garden to enjoy a tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad.
“The garden has done very well and the kids seem very happy with it,” said Mrs. Nelson. “It gets them to think creatively about what they can make and what other ingredients they might need [for a certain recipe].” For example, when Mrs. Nelson asked her students to think about what they might be able to create for their last class meeting with what was available in the garden, the students came up with suggestions such as pizza, bruschetta, and salsa. (Their final menu featured bagel- and English muffin-pizzas with fresh basil, thyme, and onions.)
Several of the students have gardens at home, so they came to the class with both knowledge and ideas about gardening. But mostly, the garden provided them with something fun to do together and a sense of accomplishment.
“We planted the seeds, and it was fun to see that we didn’t kill them,” joked one of the students. But it was clear that they enjoyed the class and especially enjoyed the results of their hard work. Looking toward next school year, Mrs. Nelson has definite plans to offer the elective again and make it even bigger.
“We would like to be able to grow more for the kitchen staff to use and to expand the cooking component of the class,” she said. So it won’t be just our Middle School students benefitting from this fun class—the whole campus will reap the delicious benefits.
Top: Planting the garden
Middle: School chef Lisa Moran harvests vegetables for school lunches
Bottom: Enjoying the fruits of their labors!