Eastside students get a garden GIFT


From left, Pasco Williams, Chauncey Brister, Jerrod Whitehead, Shaheed Cure and Sirjason Monroe build the planter boxes for the GIFT garden.

Erica Brough/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:18 p.m.

Eastside High School students in the Pre-Collegiate Club and members of the school's wrestling team joined forces to create an organic vegetable garden at their school.

More than 25 students braved intermittent rain last Friday to prepare the land by installing cardboard under mulch to prevent weed growth before building five rectangular wooden beds in which to grow their organic vegetables.

Jacquelene Polke, sponsor of the Pre-Collegiate Club, said the Gainesville-based non-profit Florida Organic Growers, or FOG, provided everything needed to build the gardens as part of its Gainesville Initiative for Tasty Gardens, or GIFT Gardens. The students provided the labor.

The Pre-Collegiate Club is designed to expose minority students to the idea of going to college and to assist them in the process of applying to college.

Polke said last Friday's plans called for installing organic dirt and planting seedlings, but the organic dirt didn't arrive so planting will be done when the organic dirt arrives later this week.

Polke, who also is the ninth-grade dean of students at Eastside, said the organic garden project is in keeping with First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, which calls for increasing access to healthy foods, helping parents make healthy eating and lifestyle choices for their families, serving healthier foods in schools and increasing physical activity among young people.

"The kids are into it," said Polke. "They're learning to make healthy choices and learning how to contribute to the environment."

Travis Mitchell, project coordinator at GIFT Gardens, said since 2008, FOG has installed gardens at more than 200 sites, including schools in Alachua County.

"Since Lady Obama's initiative, we've seen a spike in interest," said Mitchell, adding that there is a waiting list for gardens.

At the Eastside garden project, Mitchell said the students will grow vegetables according to the fall, winter and spring season. Coming up in February, they will plant such things as collard greens and radishes. In the spring, they will plant squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and more.

Polke said the plan is to share the vegetables with students to take home and for use by students in the school's Institute of Culinary Arts.

"I want to change their (students) eating habits," said Polke, adding that Chef Billie DeNunzio, director of the culinary program, is willing to prepare tasty ways for the students to enjoy the vegetables that they will grow.

"We're looking to help our young people to being healthy," Polke said.

Adrian Taylor, head coach of the wresting team and the track team, said wrestling is an individual sport, so working on the garden project presented a valuable opportunity for teamwork. "This is an opportunity to work as a team and to learn about each other," said Taylor, adding that the track team will be available to help also.

Mitchell said gardening is valuable at many levels because it teaches personal responsibility because you have to water and tend your garden in order to get the rewards.

"The pay off is you get to harvest what you grow," Mitchell said. "When you see your food grow, you're more likely to eat it."

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