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Organic gardens in local schools provide unique learning experience


Last updated 8/21/2008 at Noon

Tatum Browning trims plants in front of the Ivy High School office.

What the heck is horticultural therapy? Horticultural therapy uses gardens and plants in activities to improve the body, mind and spirits. It has been practiced since 1798 in America.

Universities all across the nation now offer degrees in horticultural therapy. It has become accepted and is an effective tool in improving the quality of life for those who participate in gardening efforts.

Our capacity to recognize and seek out the natural order is one of the basic drives that makes up the fabric of a human being and has shaped our common ancestry. There is a shift happening across our current cultural landscape. The impact of the human race on our planet, our greater insights into our biology, our universe and the inner workings of our life are all being understood at an unparalleled rate.

Horticultural therapy involves the enabling of gardening for all. Raised beds, planting tables, wheelchair-accessible paths and sensory plants allow people of all ages to participate in gardening activities. It offers cognitive, social, psychological and physical benefits to all.

Sally Baker Opp, who teaches adapted physical education to special needs students on four Fallbrook Union Elementary School District campuses, deserves many thanks. She has been of great help to the organic garden project.

Sally has advised on wheelchair access (universal accessibility) to all the gardens in the schools and has been fundamental in aiding the expansion of the project through the school system.

Many students feel passive and dependent. Growing and nurturing a garden of living plants creates a role change. They become the caregiver of a garden. This can create confidence and reestablish a sense of purpose.

Since starting the Fallbrook Schools Organic Gardens 15 years ago at Ivy High School, we have been fortunate to have gained the advice of many experts. This approach to gardening focuses on the rhythms of life, on peace, beauty and the mystery of the plant world and the need for us to care for it.

It has been shown that kids who grow vegetables tend to eat more vegetables, and the planting of tangerine trees within our gardens help kids eat healthy snacks.

Gardens and flower growing can help students keep emotional and intellectual balances. Hope is alive and well in the gardener’s heart.

Beyond that, learning new skills and communication development, decision-making, problem-solving are all practiced in the gardens. Attention spans and concentration levels are expanded by learning to follow sequential directions.

Social and psychological improvements come from working within a group and learning to share, to consider, to compromise and to have common goals. Students develop improved self-esteem and self-confidence after they have planted and tended a successful organic garden.

Mike Garcia and a fellow Ivy student pick tomatoes in the school

The consumption of the vegetables and fruits, with nutrition and cooking classes of the food they have grown, gives them a feeling of accomplishment.

They also receive physical strengthening in a non-competitive and non-threatening environment. Being participants in the garden efforts is valuable for stress reduction and health management.

This is an ongoing, expanding project that we hope someday will be a part of every classroom. We hope to mentor students the joy of pulling a carrot, washing it off and eating it. Turn it into a carrot salad; shred it for lettuce salads; make carrot juice from it; carrot cake, and other nutritional dishes vegetables can become.

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