Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings Elementary gardens grow and grow | jacksonville.com

The donation promotes green thumbs among elementary school kids.

Posted: April 23, 2010 - 12:12am on jacksonville.com
By Maggie FitzRoy

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Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings Elementary kindergartners from teacher Doreen Halvorsen's class visit one of the school's gardens Wednesday while taking visitors on a tour to thank them for a garden grant.  Photos by MAGGIE FITZROY/Staff
Photos by MAGGIE FITZROY/Staff
Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings Elementary kindergartners from teacher Doreen Halvorsen's class visit one of the school's gardens Wednesday while taking visitors on a tour to thank them for a garden grant.
Gardening has been an important part of school life at Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings Elementary for 10 years.

Every kindergarten class has a small garden and the second-grade classes share a large fenced-in organic garden.

Orange and grapefruit trees have been planted throughout the campus and are filled with blossoms, promising an abundant crop of fruit next fall for the school's cafeteria.

This week, thanks to a $500 grant from Hilton Garden Inn, the school's gardens will be able to expand further. The grant, in conjunction with the National Gardening Association and the Sunset Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, was awarded to kindergarten teacher Doreen Halvorsen for her class's attendance at a recent plant sale.


Wednesday,Halvorsen's class met with Hilton Garden Inn general manager Chuck Schoonmaker to thank him and his staff and to give them a tour of the gardens.

The grant funds a new composter, an additional garden bed, gardening books, bird feeders, tools and seeds.
In addition, the staff of the hotel, which is nearby in Sawgrass Village, has committed to volunteer at the school as gardening helpers.

As part of an established national outdoor Hilton program, every hotel reaches out into the community to support a school garden, depending on the school's needs, Schoonmaker said. "Since this school already has gardens, this grant aims to sustain them over a long time and enhance them."

"This grant goes hand-in-hand with the existing work we do with gardening," Principal Kathleen Furness said. "It's a wonderful opportunity."

Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings and Hilton Garden Inn are well in the forefront of a national trend with school gardening, which has been in the national news lately due to focus on healthy eating.

First Lady Michelle Obama has launched an anti-obesity campaign, a television show called "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" has focused attention on getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables and a bill on child nutrition is moving through Congress.

The Senate will soon vote on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which would provide $4.5 billion in new child nutrition program funding for 10 years. The bill in part would facilitate planting of school gardens and using local foods in school cafeterias.

The aim is to show children what natural food looks and tastes like, that it doesn't just show up in grocery stores wrapped in plastic.

Furness said Ponte Vedra Palm Valley/Rawlings students are well aware of what goes into growing fruits and vegetables, thanks to people in the Beaches community.

Volunteers from the Ribault Garden Club, led by youth garden Chairwoman Eileen Zebroski, have coordinated the gardening program for 10 years, giving assistance and expertise. This month, at the peak of the spring season, gardens are filled with lettuce, peas, parsley, cabbage, green peppers, squash, tomatoes, chives, parsley, dill, spinach and more.

And thanks to a recent donation of 30 orange trees by local company MDI Holdings, the school has 65 blooming Satsuma orange trees and several large grapefruit trees.

Last year, students and staff picked 4,000 oranges, which were offered free at lunch, Furness said. The oranges are a hit. "They love them," she said. "They're delicious."

"They also love to eat peas and cherry tomatoes and swiss chard and lettuce right out of the garden," said Zebroski, who's excited about the Hilton Garden Inn's donation, which will benefit all the kindergarten classes. Now that the school has a composter, she said she's eager to teach students about composting, so they can make fertilizer.

Halvorsen said she'll start the composting project next year, so students can observe the items they place in the composter slowly decompose over time.

"We'll put in plant material, weeds and banana peels and apple cores from their snacks," she said. "It will encourage the children to bring in fruit for snacks, because they'll want to contribute to the compost."

Maggie FitzRoy can also be reached at (904) 249-4947, ext. 6320.

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/community/shorelines/2010-04-23/story/ponte-vedra-palm-valleyrawlings-elementary-gardens-grow-and#ixzz25KFRwKf4