Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation’s “Project Learning Garden” is helping metro-Atlanta schools address food scarcity across the region.

With its new “Project Giving Garden” initiative, the Foundation is planting and maintaining 300+ school gardens and 120+ community gardens across DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Henry counties that are unused or underused, to potentially provide 250,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to students and families experiencing extreme food insecurity. The program also provides jobs for up to 20 young urban farmers.

The Project Learning Garden is a grant program offered at no cost to public elementary schools in the metro Atlanta area every year. School administrative teams and participating teachers who are interested in starting a garden must prepare to incorporate gardens and cooking activities into regular classroom instruction and school culture through a series of virtual self-guided training modules.

“In response to the growing interest in establishing gardens on school campuses, Captain Planet Foundation developed a holistic garden-based program,” program manager of Captain Planet Foundation Tasha Gomes said. “PLG was designed with the explicit goal of removing known barriers to successful and sustainable garden-based instruction.”

“To that end, PLG was developed to provide teacher training and preparation, standards-based lessons, instructional materials, and cooking equipment to ensure that students have access to highly nutritional taste-tests and food prep demos using produce grown on campus,” Gomes said.

Students help plant, maintain and harvest the gardens. Sagamore Hills Elementary School teacher Stephanie Spencer says the school has two after-school garden clubs, K-2 Junior Garden Club and 3-5 Senior Garden Club. According to Spencer, each club has around 50 students on a waiting list.

Spencer is the K through 5 STEM teacher and garden coordinator at Sagamore Hills Elementary, where she says clubs meet every Thursday, alternating between the junior and senior clubs.

“During each hour’s meeting, our students do clean up during part of the time,” Spencer said. “Picking up sticks, raking leaves, and adding them to the compost pile, weeding, planting, harvesting, and enjoying the fruits of their labor with taste tests at the end of the garden club. It may be a salad, cut up tomatoes or peppers, freshly picked watermelon, or something new like a slice of kohlrabi.”

However, because students have been out of school since the spring, the gardens were not active for the past few months. Spencer said that normally students taste test their crops at the end of meetings, but their partnership with Captain Planet means that this summer, produce will go to Networks Food Pantry in Tucker.

“I use the science standards at each grade to create a STEM project for the gardens,” Spencer said. “The kids love being outside, and I use the gardens for studying plants, pollinators, birds, animals, host plants for butterflies and much more. My goal is to instill a love of nature and show students how to grow their own food and food for our animals to illustrate how everything we do has consequences, both positive and negative.”

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