Coach Larry Burdette’s game plan for teaching his Peachtree Charter Middle School sixth grade Health and Physical Education classes about healthy food is a winner.
Burdette’s goal is to teach the children not just to develop healthy eating habits but to show them where healthy food comes from and how to grow it.
He began doing that last fall when he took a health class to the Community Garden in Brook Run Park, which borders the back of the school campus. At the organic garden the children performed a variety of hands-on gardening tasks.
Coach Burdette was pretty sure his idea was a good one. He found out just how good it really is when several of his students told him their parents had started home vegetable gardens as a result of the Community Garden experience.
“I wasn’t expecting that!” he said last week while leading another class in a new gardening project at the Community Garden. “But, OK. Good job!
“Kids, especially boys, learn better when they are doing something with their hands,” he added.
Now Burdette and his first period students are doing plenty with their hands as they work on spring gardening projects with Community Garden volunteers in Brook Run Park.
Last week’s class began with what has become a traditional pell-mell run down the hill to the garden. Waiting for them were wheel barrows, shovels, a mound of compost, bags of chicken and cow manure, a list of goals on a blackboard, two 40-foot garden rows and Community Garden volunteers Pattie Baker, Don Converse and Bob Lundsten.
The children quickly broke into two groups, with one adding the compost and manure to the rows and the other digging up and turning in a cover crop in the fenced-in Community Garden a short distance away.
The group working on the field's 40-foot rows is learning about three kinds of growing methods:
- Double dig, which involves digging a planting area with a second dig into the earth that’s deeper than the first.
- No till, a planting method in which the soil is disturbed only enough to plant seeds or transplants.
- Hugelkultur, a German method that involves digging out a growing area, putting in logs and branches and covering them with growing media.
After adding the compost and manure, they planted three types of potatoes – Idaho donated by Whole Foods, Red Russet and Purple Peruvian – and two types of onions -- Texas Sweet and a red variety. They also made signs for the garden touting the school and designating the crops.
Meanwhile, the second group worked on several beds for Community Garden member Sue Said, turning over her winter cover crop and adding new planting media to help the cover crop decompose. As this group worked, Lundsten explained the role a cover crop plays in adding nitrogen to the soil and aiding in plant growth.
In several weeks, after the turned-in cover crops have had a chance to break down, the children will plant beets, onions, radishes and potatoes.
The class concluded with the two groups coming together at the blackboard where Baker led them in a review of their progress and achievements.
“They are doing real work to grow real food that makes a real difference,” she wrote in an email to Community Garden members.
During the week in the classroom, the children will discuss what they are doing in the garden and why they are doing it. “To know how to eat right, I want to show the kids how to grow the right food in the right way,” Burdette said.
The kids know where to get food, Burdette said. “But do they know how the farmers grew it?” he asked. “If you grow your own food you know what’s in it. If we eat right, we can cut down on health care costs.”
Clearly, the students are getting the message.
Now Burdette will just have to wait and see if some of the parents of these students take a page from his playbook and start their own vegetable gardens at home.