Tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage along with a wide variety of other vegetables will sprout in Murray Elementary’s community garden with support from the Commonwealth Garden Grant.
Phara Bourque built the school’s first raised bed last year when a teacher asked her to help build one in Murray Elementary’s courtyard. Bourque has two children at the school and two more at Murray Middle School.
Bourque says students tended to the garden even throughout the summer.
“When you watch a child pull out carrots and harvest the carrots that they planted from seeds in the spring, and they’re pulling them out in the fall, and they’re pulling out these beautiful six or eight inch carrots, it’s a magical moment,” she said.
Bourque believes integrating gardening and knowledge about food into the classroom is a way to enrich students’ education and teach them about a vital part of life.
“Well it’s a known fact what kids grow they eat,” she said. “…The obesity rates, I see the food that they’re eating and bringing. I want them to eat more vegetables. And a way to do this is to grow it. They taste better. They’re interacting with the growth from beginning to end. Watching them, harvesting it, and they will eat it.”
When she discovered the Commonwealth Garden Grant, which gives technical support and advice in addition to seeds and seedlings, she asked Public Information Officer and Volunteer Coordinator Sherry Purdom to help apply. They were awarded the grant this year, and Steve Meredith with the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy says they are the westernmost Commonwealth Garden in the state along with one at the Murray Art Guild.
“There is a growing interest in local foods and gardening, reconnecting with the land. … Our goal is to encourage schools, community groups, churches and other organizations to start gardening or improve upon their existing gardening projects,” Meredith said. “We offer very simple support—technical assistance advice, connection with extension and also we provide seeds and plants for small garden startups.”
Meredith says Bourque brings an interesting perspective on the project.
“It’s Interesting to hear Phara talk about this because Phara comes from Colorado, one of the statistically healthiest states in the country, to Kentucky, one of the statistically least healthy states in the country, to the South where diet and obesity are a regional problem,” he said. “And so she brings a perspective of her observation to a project like this recognizing the need and the urgency and at the same time as a mother knowing the value of her kids getting some hands on exposure to the science and math and the other curriculum things that are a part of a school system that go with gardening in addition to nutrition.”
Meredith will advise Bourque on when and how to plant, suggesting things like using weed killer on the grass and allowing its decomposing roots to loosen the soil instead of tilling. One of his suggestions was to grow a variety of gourds and even small pumpkins to teach students about how non-edible plants are still marketable and helpful for the environment.
The Commonwealth Garden Initiative also aims to bring gardening into the classroom. Meredith says it focuses on STEAM, that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
“It’s just a great number of things that a gardening project provides is an outdoor lab for teachers to take their kids and learn about these different subject areas. And I threw art in there because we’re talking about adding some ornamentals here: gourds, sunflowers. Using those to connect with historical things that the way that people used in the past.”
Although the grant only lasts one year, Bourque has worked to get continuing support elsewhere. She says the Parent Teacher Organization has agreed to give an annual donation for seeds and other gardening supplies.