Montgomery nurtures school gardens

August 1, 2013

Fresh food and sound science are on the menu for a growing number of Montgomery County public schools.

Thirty-five county schools have gardens, according to a survey released last Thursday by Montgomery Victory Gardens, a local food education and advocacy project.

“There are just so many reasons for kids of all ages to get involved in gardening,” said Elizabeth Levien, who teaches honors chemistry and horticulture at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. “Really little kids can work on observation. Older ones can learn to ask questions. . . . Gardening is a way to take control of their health. They learn where their food comes from.”

Levien and Chris Brown, horticulture and AP environmental science teacher, supervise the greenhouse and the outdoor garden at Blair.

“Montgomery County requires students to take three sciences to graduate, and horticulture is historically easy to pass, so a lot of the [less serious] students sign up,” she said. “It’s so exciting seeing kids [who are] turned off by science get excited about it.”

Gordon Clark, project director of Montgomery Victory Gardens, said the school system officially has allowed school gardens for about two years.

Schools spokesman Dana Tofig confirmed that there was a policy change within the last two years. He pointed out a section about school gardens on the MCPS Web site, www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/outdoored/outreach.

Clark said one reason for publishing the survey is to encourage more schools to begin gardens and let them know of resources to help them get started.

“We wanted to see what [schools] were doing and to make sure they know that gardens are allowed,” he said.

Karla Kratovil, PTA vice president and the main force behind the garden at Flower Hill Elementary School, in Gaithersburg, said she was at a Montgomery County Council of PTAs meeting about two years ago where it was announced that gardens are allowed.

The 35 schools with gardens, out of 202 in the school system, include elementary, middle and high schools across the county.

Some gardens are just a few raised beds on school grounds. Others fill courtyards or begin in greenhouses before being moved outside.

The gardens at Sherwood High School are part of a science curriculum that horticulture teacher Jill Couts is developing with teachers from Clarksburg, Damascus and Springbrook high schools. The 2013-14 school year will be the program’s second year.

“This is a three-year program of study leading to becoming a certified professional horticulturist,” Couts said. “I have a 300-square-foot greenhouse, so we do a lot of edible plant production. The kids love to grow plants, and they love to grow plants they can eat.”

The budding interest is not just shown by students planning on a career in horticulture, she said.

About 30 students who are not in the certification program come to the greenhouse to work each week, she said.

She sees working with plants as a stress reducer for students and a place where they can learn a life skill.

“Even though they probably will not go into horticulture or landscaping, it is something they will do for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Even though most schools still lack gardens, Clark is excited by the survey results and would like to work with PTA committees to create a garden support network.

“This is the best way to teach environmental stewardship,” Clark said.

The survey is available by e-mailing info@montgomeryvictorygardens.org.

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