Cultivating a Market Garden in the Schoolyard

Tara Fisher-Muñoz arrived at SFC's grand opening already buzzing with excitement. With infectious enthusiasm, she introduced herself to Grow Local Teaching Garden Coordinator Ellen Orabone, eager to share stories about a new program she's involved in at Wells Branch Elementary. Tara, a parent there, and a long-time participant in SFC’s Spread the Harvest program, gushed about the latest development at the Wells Branch school garden: their Farmers’ Market Project. This project for fifth-graders provides an opportunity to cultivate a market garden from seed to farm stand, and in its first year, it has already yielded delicious results. When Tara invited Ellen and Grow Local Education & Community Garden Coordinator Sophie Fuchs to visit the Wells Branch Garden, they jumped at the opportunity. Ellen and Sophie brought back these insights.

How did the Wells Branch Elementary Garden get its start?

The garden started three years ago as a project of the Wells Branch PTA’s Go Green Team. With a shoestring budget to work with, the team’s first goal was to get edible garden beds planted, since they believed this was the most important teaching aspect of the garden. Thanks to donations of lumber, soil, compost, and manure from local businesses; free compost, seedlings, and seeds from SFC’s Spread the Harvest program; and, of course, hours of time from dedicated volunteers, the garden gradually became a reality. And with more than $15,000 raised to date, the garden will continue to grow.

How does the Farmers’ Market Project work?

The Farmers’ Market Project gives students the opportunity to take on full responsibility for cultivating a veggie garden with an eye toward reaping enough harvest to sell. Students are responsible for researching what vegetables they’d like to grow, planting, caring for their plants, harvesting, and ultimately, selling their produce at their weekly Friday farmers’ market. In the process, they learn about plant and water cycles, organic gardening, environmental stewardship, and even a bit about what it takes to run a business (they keep spreadsheets of their sales!).

What else is happening at the garden?

Each grade level at Wells Branch also has a “Garden Explorer Period,” which allows students to participate in garden classes during the school day. Day-to-day programming includes kids planting in the beds and participating in vegetable tastings in order to reinforce the importance of food crops and the ability to eat the food that they raise. Parent volunteers assist teachers as they deliver lessons on a wide variety of subjects outside in the garden.

What did you see on your visit to the Wells Branch garden?

We were invited as “guest gardeners” to teach Garden Explorer Period lessons for third and fourth graders and to check out the Farmers’ Market Project. With the first group, we led a Plant Part Play activity, in which students acted out the functions of the six plant parts (imagine kids sucking up water like roots, and flirting with imaginary bees, as flowers). Not only were the students engaged--they already knew their plant parts! The fifth graders gave us a tour of their garden beds, greenhouse, and Farmers’ Market spaces. These students could correctly identify every vegetable species in the garden. Tara pointed out an “SFC-Supported Garden” sign proudly placed among the greens.

What was most striking about your visit to the garden?

The excitement of the students was so inspiring. These kids are learning so many things through the garden--from academic concepts, to personal and financial responsibility, to ecological consciousness--and they’re retaining that knowledge. They understand that food is important, and they’re excited about eating their veggies!

We’re thrilled about what's happening in the Wells Branch Elementary school garden--folks here and at other school gardens throughout Central Texas are helping students engage with healthy food as participants in their local food system. We can’t wait to see what innovative approaches school garden leaders like Tara will try next, and we’re excited to support them when they do.

To learn more about the Wells Branch Elementary school garden project, visit the PTA Go Green Team blog. Click here to learn how Grow Local can assist with your school garden project!