Here we grow.” That’s the name of Harlan Elementary’s vegetable garden.
The name hangs over the six raised bed plots — one for each grade — written on the wall behind it.
And it’s more than just a name, it’s a mission statement.
“The kids plant their own vegetables, they watch them grow, pick them and they wash them, and we cook them so they can eat them,” said Teresa Darby, child nutrition manager at Harlan in Florence.
It’s all part of an initiative for Harlan to promote healthy living habits in their students.
Harlan Principal Shirley Coker said they’re also promoting healthier exercise habits in their students between classes and in physical education classes.
Students have brief periods of exercise between subjects where they may watch a one-minute dance video or do some other kind of physical activity.
This involves working with P.E. teacher Sandra Horton to teach kids how cardiovascular exercise effects their body, how heart rates affect exercise and teaching them how to read nutrition labels — and more importantly how that information affects their bodies.
“Students also learn running form and pacing,” Horton said, who teaches track to the students. “It teaches them how to get the most out of their running.”
While the exercise helps kids learn about setting goals, what it takes to accomplish their goals and how it feels to meet them, the garden offers the kids a way to learn about where their food comes from.
The school garden also teaches kids the cause and effect of planting, caring for, harvesting and eating their food.
“A lot of these children would never have the experience of a garden, so we feel like that has been a great asset for those students and teachers,” Coker said. “Hands-on learning is something they will remember forever.”
The lessons learned in the garden tie into and spill over in the classroom. A garden requires science and math — measurements and reactions. It’s a place for students to put into practice the things they learn in the classroom. And it also provides teachers a relatable example to use when doing something like measuring square feet or discussing plant cells.
“It’s helping kids see it, plant it, pick it, and I think it’s making them want to eat more fresh stuff,” Darby said. “They’re learning where it’s coming from instead of the produce at Wal-Mart.”
Coker said they also share the vegetables with people who live in the neighborhood surrounding the school.
“They have grandparents who volunteer, and we share them with the volunteers who come into our school to help our school out,” Coker said. “So not only are they learning to grow their own vegetables and enjoy those, but they are learning to share with others.”
Of course, the garden wouldn’t exist without community support.
Grants, donations and resources were provided by numerous businesses throughout the community. Labor was provided by some of the kids, people in the neighborhood, parents and grandparents.
“We’ve gotten a lot of community members in to assist us to make sure that this happens for our students,” Coker said. “This is such a need for our students to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle so they can grow up to be healthy adults.
“It’s not just a day, it’s every day that we are talking about nutrition.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.