On a cool mid November morning in Dallas, first graders at Stonewall Jackson Elementary rushed through their 20,000 square foot garden to harvest the vegetables they’ve been monitoring with anticipation. On this day, they were getting a chance to taste their bounty, along with prominent local Chef John Tesar and USDA Food and Nutrition Service staff.
Spearheading the project the last two years has been parent volunteer Kate Cromwell, who serves as the president of Stonewall Gardens, a nonprofit that supports the school’s garden at no cost.
“Every single student has his or her own plant,” said Cromwell, a mother of four students at the school. “You’ve never seen kids so excited about taking cabbage home and eating it for dinner.” But Cromwell reserves her highest praise for science teach Mark Painter, who helps drive curriculum at the garden every day.
“Stonewall Gardens is my outdoor science lab,” said Painter, a fifteen-year teaching veteran. “This is a workspace where no one is in control of all the variables. Questions always come up and we address them on the spot.”
Painter has children measuring wind, temperatures, and vegetable growth. He’s also been busy educating them about natural predators and compost in the garden.
Probably one of the best things about today’s visit to the garden, according to many first graders, is the taste of something delicious. “I like everything. The salad comes from a bunch of good stuff,” said Sam Getner, who helped pull up turnip greens, beet greens and special wildflowers.
Getner and his classmates were given a salad-making demonstration by Chef Tesar, from the Taste of the Nation Culinary Council, which works on childhood hunger prevention. He is also active in the Chefs Move to Schools program, part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to prevent childhood obesity.
“Gardens, like the one here at Stonewall Jackson Elementary, are priceless,” said Tesar. “This is the stuff I serve in my restaurant.”
He taught the children to keep their salads simple and not add too much dressing.
“We need to teach simplicity, to moderate their consumption and promote exercise,” said Tesar.
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