The Delta Health Alliance

Sanders School Garden

Posted on: December 14, 2018

Jarvonte Edwards and Lawrence Woods are more than schoolmates. They’re garden buddies in a newly cultivated plot of ground outside their classroom.

“We’re out here planting all the plants and spreading the soil to make the beds,” said Jarvonte, 10, a fifth-grader at Hollandale’s Sanders Elementary School. “And we’re learning what it takes to grow stuff.”

Added 11-year-old Lawrence: “We help each other when it’s too hard to do it by yourself. The things we learn we can also use in class.”

Welcome to the newest garden in the highly successful program called Delta EATS, or Edible Agriculture Teaching Students – a network of school gardens supported by the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) through grant funding from the Department of Education and Monsanto Company.

Patterned after gardens at McEvans School in Shaw and Leland Elementary School in Leland., Sanders Elementary School recently broke ground on its garden with about 40 fifth graders working like bees to spread mulch in preparation for the next growing season.

“I think it’s serving these kids by giving them the opportunity to work hands on and to be trusted to do a task and rise to that occasion,” said Caroline Francisco, one of three AmeriCorps-FoodCorps members who are working with the EATS program at Sanders. 

The garden, she said, reinforces the school curriculum while teaching the students about respecting each other and the earth. 

Overseen by co-founder and project manager Ryan Betz of DHA, the school gardens are transforming young lives by teaching students more than simply how to plant a seed. The gardens are working laboratories that tie into the lessons learned in the school classrooms. 

“The Sanders garden is located at the heart of the school yard, right outside the school’s administrative offices and tucked between the school’s high-traffic classroom buildings,” said Betz. “We are so proud of this network we’re building in the Delta that we believe is having a real impact on these kids.”

In addition to partnering with FoodCorps, Delta EATS also receives support from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Whole Foods/Whole Kids Foundation, the Mississippi Farm to School Network and Lowes. The program has received numerous in-kind contributions, and individual and local business donations.

Features of each Delta EATS garden include a series of garden “rooms” that highlight different uses and functions such as:

  • Garden entrance space and pathways
  • Raised bed and square-foot classroom lab
  • Double-dug production bed spaces to produce a higher yield of just a few crop varieties to be used for cafeteria taste tests, cooking lessons, family garden night events, or school market stands. 
  • Flower gardens
  • Perennial and annual herb gardens
  • Compost – collected from local sources, including food scraps from the local cafeteria
  • Blackberry patches

The Sanders garden, like others in the network, includes a storage shed, with an outside wall doubling as a learning black board space for whole group station; learning stations that adapt to reading and writing,  gardening or cooking stations.

But it’s the unexpected that leaves the most indelible impressions, said Jonathan Rosser, another AmeriCorps-FoodCorps member.

“We had a rabbit in the garden the other day and the students were just so excited,” Rosser said. “They saw firsthand how a garden serves more than humans. The rabbits, the insects in the garden, they all play a role. Every day is something new and that’s what helps keep them engaged and eager to work.”