The last harvest of the year for students at Elkhart Elementary included 53 pounds of produce: potatoes, kale, onions, green beans, carrots, and mint. The harvest came through an Anderson County Master Gardeners program.
For the past four years, Anderson County Master Gardener Pam Denson has taught third-, fourth- and fifth-grade science students in Elkhart about gardening and nutrition. It's been a rewarding four years for Denson and her students.
“I still don’t always know them by name, but I know them by face and they know me,” Denson said. “They will call me 'Mrs. Denson,' but I’m also the 'garden lady.'”
Even kids she thought were totally disengaged remember the experience. It's also taught Denson what educators go through, and what kids go through at home.
“It’s opened my eyes to the chaos of the classroom,” said said. “It’s one thing to be told; it’s another to see it for yourself.
“To be able to have lunch with the teachers and hear their struggles – all of that has been an eye opener.”
The program has been good for not only the classes Denson teaches, but also the entire school.
“We’ve doing this long enough that when teachers of other elementary classes see us, they will bring their students out and show them what’s going on.”
Each year, Denson tries to add to the program. The mixture of vegetables is slightly different with each season, with variations that include squash, okra, carrots, radish, green beans, corn, tomatoes, kale, lettuce, peas, onions, and potatoes.
Along the way, the class has added herbs, including peppermint and basil.
During the program's third year, students tackled composting. This year, Denson added flowers to the curriculum, after reading how they help pollinate.
While students use some of the herbs and vegetables they grow for classroom tastings, they donate most of them to the Stockpot, a nonprofits group in Palestine that serves daily meals to the poor.
“Our students take pride in helping to feed the hungry and less fortunate,” Denson said.
To expand the program, Denson obtained a grant through the Texas Farm Bureau. Much of it was used to purchase rolls of plastic for the garden.
They also plan to use some of the money to build a drip irrigation system. Denson will meet with teachers and the principal to decide how to use the rest of the grant.
Grants have not been the only money donated to the program.
“Businesses and members of the community have always been helpful,” Denson said.
She hopes to build an outdoor classroom and make the school garden handicap accessible with sidewalks.
Elkhart is one of three schools in the county in the Master Gardener program. Neches uses the produce grown by the students in its cafeteria menu plans.
Denson, a registered nurse who lives in Brushy Creeks, has been a Master Gardener for seven years.