Growing Kids, Growing Food

Pine Grove Elementary may be the first U.S. elementary school certified as a U-Pick farm.

By Clair McLafferty | Photos By Mike Potthast

It’s a science project! It’s a farm! No, it’s the courtyard at Pine Grove Elementary, which science teacher Doug Poteet believes is the first elementary school certified in the United States as a U-pick farm.

Farmers and Pine Grove 4th graders Ethan Perry and Samantha Kay.

Farmers and Pine Grove 4th graders Ethan Perry and Samantha Kay.

The farm at the Brooksville, Fla., school started as a project for the fourth- and fifth-graders in the science club about eight years ago. “Every year, we strive to get bigger and [to tackle] bigger projects,” says Poteet, who, along with students and volunteers, have planted a vineyard, individual classroom garden plots and the U-pick garden.

Much of the growth, which also includes an animal area and earthworm production, is thanks to the involvement of volunteers. “Most of our business partners are in their 70s and 80s,” says Poteet. “They have so much information stored up in their life experience when it comes to farming.”

Another partner is the University of Florida Master Gardener program. “They want to see gardening come back at the elementary level,” says Poteet.

Pine Grove students are responsible for planting and monitoring their class plot. Any potential problems recorded by a class or volunteer are reported to the science club, which is responsible for researching and implementing an appropriate solution.

Students in the science club also learn “a lot of math,” says fifth-grader Mia Lizuinga. By using examples from the garden, the kids are introduced to practical geometry and mathematical concepts. When they really get a concept, Poteet likes to say, “And now you’re hirable.”

More projects are in the works, and Poteet is also working to get the food grown at Pine Grove into the school cafeteria. “It would be a leap of faith in our cafeteria, because now they would be counting on what we grow at our school,” says Poteet. “It’s a whole rethinking of what is available based on the season.”

But the biggest benefit, says parent volunteer Dwayne Ross, who is one of the managers at another local community garden, is the knowledge that’s passed on to the kids. “When you see an elementary school child’s face light [up] when they’re eating what they’ve grown, and they’re tasting something for the first time—that’s the benefit.”