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Growing green thumbs: China Grove Elementary starts garden

A closer look

Ethan Tran, a third-grader at China Grove Elementary School, leans over to peer at seedlings growing in the school’s new garden. Rebecca Rider/Salisbury Post

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — It’s been a long time since China Grove Elementary School has had a garden. In fact, media center coordinator Beverly Litke isn’t sure if the school has ever had one — not really.

But the school had the beds for it. Just a few rectangular raised beds made out of simple wood boards. They were built seven or eight years ago for third-grade classes studying plant life.

Every year or so, a teacher will try to plant flowers or seeds in the hard, red clay, but the green-thumb experiments have always fizzled out.

“They’ve never done anything special,” Litke said.

But this year, Litke and the third-graders aim to change that. With trowels, watering cans and a horde of would-be gardeners armed with enthusiasm, if not knowledge, they hope to nurture something green and growing.

The idea is one Litke credits to a conversation with local farmer Josh Safrit.

“And he just happened to casually say, ‘Do you have a garden project?’” she recalled.

Litke told him about the empty beds, and Safrit told her about a grant.

The entire third grade helped put together the application for a grant from the Farm Bureau, with students writing letters asking for help getting the garden off the ground.

China Grove Elementary was awarded $200, which the school used to purchase soil, seeds and worms. Most of the money was spent on soil, Litke said, on the advice of local farmers who visited the school.

“The two farmers who came out here said, ‘Ain’t noting gonna grow in here,’” Litke said, laughing.

Now, the soil is rich and black, and starter squash plants hang over the edge of the beds. One bed has been devoted to growing corn from seed. The young plants came from the parents of third-grade teacher Gretchen Brown.

Each class takes a turn in the garden. For the students, it’s a living lesson.

“We’re learning how plants work,” student Margo said.

Traditionally, the third-graders spend the last part of the year learning the plant life cycle — from seed to bloom. Now, they get to see it happen right before their eyes.

Students, some of whom have never worked in a garden before, are eager to talk about the project, easily rattling off the names of the plants growing there: peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, corn. They’re even eager to talk about the worms, which some of the students have started naming for fun.

“My favorite part of working in the garden is when we get to actually plant in the garden because that’s just fun to me,” student Taylor said.

And then there’s the magic of watching seeds sprout, grow and turn into something with leaves. Then it produces food. Some students have found that, while they’re waiting for that eventual day, they’re learning something else along the way.

“It would kind of teach us patience so we’re not always eager and stuff,” student Hailie said.

School’s almost out, but Litke said she plans to continue tending the garden through the summer. She’s thinking about enlisting the help of students in summer school. If not, the care — and the crop — will go to the school’s custodial staff.

But she, and others at the school, hope the garden will last far longer than the summer season.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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