WINDER — An award-winning interactive Clarke County school program that teaches students about science and nutrition is now underway in Barrow County, thanks to the University of Georgia.
The “Grow It Know It” program, established in 2013 by the UGA Office of Service-Learning, UGA Cooperative Extension, UGArden and the Clarke County School District, is designed to support teachers involved in farm-to-school programming.
UGA alumna Alyssa Flanders, now a teacher at Russell Middle School in Barrow County, volunteered at Clarke Middle School when she was at UGA studying agricultural education. She helped in the school garden, growing fresh fruits and vegetables to offer in the cafeteria and helping students learn about agriculture and healthy eating.
When she learned that Grow It Know It was expanding to counties outside of Clarke County, she jumped at the chance to work with the program again.
“You can’t have a school garden by yourself. It really takes a village,” Flanders says. “You need expert knowledge, materials, construction, all the support you can get.”
School gardens are living, breathing outdoor classrooms for students to apply what they learn in science classes to real life. Through Grow It Know It, students better understand animal science, wildlife management, mechanics and the many processes behind growing food and getting it on grocery store shelves.
“You don’t only have a school garden that one or two teachers utilize, but a school garden that is part of everything you do at the school,” Alicia Holloway, UGA Extension agent in Barrow County, said. “All the students and teachers utilize it, and the education isn’t just about gardening, but everything associated with it, like sustainability, health and careers in agriculture.”
Andie Bisceglia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant coordinator for Grow It Know It, said the idea to expand the program beyond Clarke County began taking shape about a year ago. Holloway’s established relationships with the school’s teachers, local farmers and businesses made Barrow County a natural fit for the program.
“When we received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we started planning and asking questions,” Bisceglia said. “Would the model work as well somewhere else? Could we spread it throughout the state?”
In Clarke County, the Office of Service-Learning places AmeriCorps VISTA members at each of the four middle schools to oversee the Grow It Know It programs. This year, AmeriCorps VISTA member Joshua Truitt was placed at Russell Middle School in Barrow County.
“After graduating, I was torn between teaching and extension work,” Truitt said. “This is the perfect fit for me because I get to work with kids and agriculture.”
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and a master’s degree in agriculture and environmental education from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in the spring of 2018. Truitt recently helped the students in Flanders’ class use a drill to make raised beds for vegetable gardens.
“It was my first time using a drill,” eighth-grader Iyanna Green said. “It was super satisfying to actually make something with my hands.”
The plant beds will house spinach, chard, radishes and collard greens — vegetables that could be served in the school cafeteria. Flanders said she believes that students are more likely to sample healthy options if they are involved in planting them.
“Now, more than ever, people want to know where their food is coming from,” she said. “It’s important to teach students that food doesn’t just magically appear at Walmart or Publix. It takes so much knowledge and resources to grow food properly and safely.”
In October, the Clarke County School District was awarded the Golden Radish Innovative Partnership Award from Georgia Organics for its partnership with Grow It Know It in Clarke County middle schools. Diana Cole, a Barrow County school teacher involved in the Grow It Know It program, won the Golden Radish Teacher of the Year award.
Georgia Organics is a statewide organization that raises awareness of the benefits of organic farming and connects organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families.
For more information about how UGA Extension works with school and community gardens, visit ugaurbanag.com.