Two green thumbs up!

Third-graders from Waxhaw Elementary’s Garden Club explore soil and learn about its role as an ecosystem.

WAXHAW – Third-graders at Waxhaw Elementary are exercising their green thumbs at an early age, thanks to the newly established Waxhaw Elementary Garden Club.

The club recently held its first meeting of the 2012-13 school year and saw 18 students attend. The students learned about soil as an ecosystem, soil enrichment and began sinking their hands into the dirt as they planted transplants of collards, cabbage and the Asian vegetable, kohlrabi.

This is the second semester Waxhaw Elementary has hosted a garden club. The club is the brainchild of Jason Loseke and his wife, Tanya, whose two children attend the school.

As a certified “schoolyard habitat,” a program managed by the National Wildlife Federation, Waxhaw Elementary has demonstrated proficiency in the four areas of habitat – food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. The Losekes noticed the school had all the infrastructure needed to get the students involved in gardening, but no one had been using it.

“My wife and I are garden growers, and as parents decided to volunteer and help lead the way,” Jason Loseke said. “There are a lot of folks out there that like to garden, (but) lots of people out there don’t think they know how to garden. We’re happy to be able to help with that, to guide the kids through gardening.”

The school has several areas – a bus courtyard, a pond courtyard and a “reading corner” – where some type of gardening can be done. Through the garden club, students are utilizing the land in a way that promotes education, healthy lifestyles and giving back.

The club meets every other Tuesday after school. Students are educationally enriched as they learn what kind of plants and vegetables can grow in certain environmental and seasonal conditions and plant vegetables like radishes, cabbage and kohlrabi because they grow during the cooler, autumn weather. They’ll learn how to harvest the vegetables before the holidays and return to do spring planting around Feb. 1.

In addition to the ins and outs of gardening, students also learn how to lead healthier lifestyles. Because the majority of what the students plant consists of vegetables and herbs, the kids are starting to incorporate things into their diet they otherwise may have never eaten.

“Last year, (the students) ate a salad that they made from the spring planting,” Loseke said. “Kids were even eating raw onions. You would think kids would never go for raw onions, ever, but they were putting that on their salad, too.”

But it doesn’t stop with what the students learn to do for themselves. Students are learning to give back to both the community and the environment. Loseke said the club makes it an effort to donate produce to local food pantries to help families in need. The students also choose flower-producing plants that attract beneficial insects, he said.

“It’s great for the garden, and for beauty as well,” Loseke said.

The biggest challenge for the garden club has been getting people involved, Loseke said.

“It’s not hard to find support for it. It’s really difficult to find somebody who says something negative about it,” he said. “What is difficult is to find help, someone able bodied, willing to work with the kids.”

Loseke hopes that as the students continue to see success with their garden, word will spread throughout the school and the community, snowballing the club into a bigger organization.

“Once you start, there’s more kids that can get signed up, there’s more grade levels that can get involved, there’s more classes that can be taught, more food that can be grown for healthy eating,” he said. “The vision is to take it as far and as fast as it will go. Even with three or four parents and four teachers, you still need more people involved, and the more the better.”

One of Loseke’s favorite things about the garden club is hearing the children’s squeals of delight when they pull something out of the ground and seeing their faces light up when they see their hard work pay off.

“They learn to appreciate small things, like what dirt is made of, the bugs that crawl in it,” he said. “They’re very proud of their work and really energetic about getting out there and getting into it and getting their hands dirty, literally.”

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