Updates from the Panda Patch: An Alamance County School Feeds Futures
In a town where more than 60 percent of students attending public school live in families that qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, your support is seeding a model program for making our schools Hunger-Free Zones.
In 2015, the first shoots broke through after months of planning culminated in the opening of the Panda School Pantry –a partnership between South Graham Elementary School, DreamAlign Ministries and Second Harvest Food Bank. Now any school family that needs it can obtain help with groceries, including fresh produce and dairy items, meats and more.
Then, in the spring of 2016, the seeds bore new fruit in the Panda Patch – a teaching garden, offering fertile ground for students, teachers and volunteers to learn and grow in community.
Liz Eckman, Data Manager for the year-round school and the key coordinator for The Patch, has taken the lead to support teachers in using the garden to get students engaged and boost academics. There’s a contagious excitement in her voice as she explains: “It’s an outdoor classroom that can be used for health and nutrition lessons, but also math – like calculating the area of a plant bed – or learning the science of how plants grow.”
Many studies have found that kids are more likely to try fruits and vegetables if they help garden them. Liz is seeing this at her school, where students are nibbling and enjoying bumper crops of six varieties of lettuce, as they tend to plantings of carrots, beets, collards and kale.
“The old adage is so true.” says Liz. “It really DOES take a village!” She and the entire school family are grateful for the old friends and new who are supporting the pantry and garden, including local master gardeners, Elon University students, the local Extension office and the Agricultural Program at Alamance Community College.
We recently checked in with Liz again, to see how the garden continues to grow: “From this garden the students have been able to not only receive fruits from the harvest, but have learned to plant and compost, along with adding beauty to the school grounds,” she says. “This year we are planning to start a gardening club so students can get even more involved! I remember a family last year getting some of the vegetables from the garden and the youngest boy was eating the cherry tomatoes before he even got in the car… 5 minutes before that he had never had or heard of “cherry” tomatoes!”
With thanks to Feeding America and Proctor & Gamble for their partnership and support for this model program.