ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Roughly half a dozen kids placed stones around an empty garden bed that will soon be filled with winter vegetables like squash, carrots and kale. Others hauled wheelbarrows, raked and weeded under the last bit of summer sun.
A few years ago, this tidy garden at the back of Lavaland Elementary was just a trash-strewn field, but fifth-grade teacher Shannon Ryan saw potential.
She organized the Lavaland garden last year as a teaching tool that also promotes a healthy diet.
“I had tears in my eyes when this opened,” Ryan said Friday. “This is something the kids are proud of.”
Students in third, fourth and fifth grades can join the after-school gardening club and learn about everything from salad recipes to composting.
Each week, the 15 club members pick fresh produce and divvy it up among the group. Depending on the season, they may end up with tomatoes, peaches, apples, grapes, artichoke hearts or strawberries. An herb section provides mint, basil, sage and thyme.
“They see where food comes from and how to make it themselves without the processed chemicals – they enjoy that a lot,” Ryan said. “They can take the skills and translate it at home to provide for their own families.”
This school year, Ryan plans to add a greenhouse, waterfall and raised beds for kids with disabilities.
In the spring, the school at 501 57th NW will also open a market where students and neighbors can sell their produce.
Ryan envisions a gathering place that builds community connections.
Already, several local businesses have helped the garden by donating labor and materials like pavers and trees.
“It seems like we have the community involvement, and that is exciting,” Ryan said. “People from across the street will walk over the to kids and say, ‘What are you planting today?’ ”
Principal Susan Neddeau has watched students gain a new sense of purpose from working with the soil.
“It’s awesome to see that transformation, not only in the garden but the kids,” she said.
Eight-year-old Jizele Chavez has enjoyed her time in the gardening club, because she meets new friends and gets to pile weeds in a bucket.
The third-grader said she loves the garden, because “it is a community and it helps pretty plants grow.”