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Celebrating the Bounty of Summer

By Sam Taggart

The potential of garden-based education lies in the integrated cycles that it demonstrates and the deep connections it affords to students. When students learn in the garden, they are not just learning about one end product or one fact, they are learning about an intricate system, full of connected processes, that exists to create the very food that sustains us. And when that system comes full circle – so that the students are actually able to eat and gain energy from the food they have learned how to grow – that is when we really celebrate!

There was much to celebrate during last month’s Garden to Table Summer Camp, hosted by my AMI Senior Fellowship Partner Organization, City Schoolyard Garden, in partnership with one of CSG’s partners, the PB&J Fund. During the camp, students from the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottesville and Charlottesville Parks & Recreation learned about various topics related to growing, cooking, and preserving fresh, healthy, and locally-grown foods. In fact, most of the food that the students prepared themselves and ate for lunch during the camp had actually been grown by many of the students in the garden at Buford Middle School over the course of the spring.

Over the course of the two-week long camp, students spent the morning in the garden at Buford Middle School learning about the function of various plant parts, the nutrient cycle, nutrient storage in leafy and root vegetables, preserving and storing crops for the colder months of the year, and much more! Every day, students partook in a lesson in the garden and had a chance to work individually and in groups on various garden tasks (a lot of which included harvesting beautiful fruits and veggies straight out of the garden!)

For the latter half of each day, students brought the veggies they had harvested that morning from the garden at Buford over to the PB&J Fund Kitchen, where they whipped up a delicious (and healthy!) lunch and learned about creative ways to combine and celebrate the fresh flavors and textures of our region’s beautiful summer bounty.

To give you an idea of what the camp was like, on Day One of the camp, students spent the morning in the garden looking at leaves and their functions. We went on a leaf scavenger hunt (a favorite of mine!) through the garden, where students identified the leaves of various plants via sight, touch, and smell. We talked about the role of photosynthesis in plant growth and nutrient storage and how to harvest leaves with care and minimal damage to the plant. Then we harvested various types of leaves such as kale, basil, thyme, oregano, and mint. For the afternoon, we all headed over to the PB&J Fund kitchen where we used the fresh produce we had just harvested to make yummy kale chips, carrots with a homemade herby yogurt dip, and caprese sandwiches!

As you can see, it was quite the fun time…

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