WINTER GARDEN — The garden ambassadors walked proudly around the raised beds at Tildenville Elementary School March 19, eager to show off the sprouts in each to guests.
Tildenville is one of six elementary schools in Winter Garden to receive grants to build learning gardens through Orlando Health Foundation’s “Growing Healthy Children” project. Dillard Street, Lake Whitney, Maxey, SunRidge and Whispering Oak are the other grant recipients.
On Thursday, the school dedicated its garden in front of students, volunteers and parents. Principal Agathe Alvarez said he was proud of the garden and that before it was built, the area was half dirt, half grass and hilly with an abundance of acorns, leaves and pollen. A team of volunteers has worked in the garden every day, even on weekends, clearing out, watering and weeding.
STEM teacher Sharon Burnett said this garden has been a labor of love, and she thanked parent volunteers Jennifer Walker and Jennifer Sales for their dedication and knowledge. They shopped and wrote grants, in addition to spending many hours in the garden, she said.
“This garden has been a gift to me and my child,” Sales said. “She’s learning how to grow and harvest healthy food. She gets to play in the dirt and get fresh air. Gardening is an outlet for her.”
Her daughter, Mia, a kindergartner at Tildenville, spoke at the dedication, thanking everyone for attending and letting them know she planted peas. First-grader Nicolas Teal, talked, as well.
“From beginning to finished product, it’s exciting for them to see,” Walker said.
She has written a blog about gardening, so Burnett visited her garden last year for inspiration. Walker also shared a gardening book with details such as what to plant and when to plant it.
In Tildenville’s beds are peppers, radishes, carrots, onions, peas, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, broccoli, squash, corn, celery, mustard, pineapple and miniature sunflowers.
Another volunteer, Amber Boas, painted brightly colored rocks for the beds, each identifying a different plant.
The students are the real winners, Burnett said, because they are seeing the outdoor classroom come to life, they are learning that carrots and radishes come in different colors, they are seeing that hard work pays off.
The Tildenville ambassadors were selected for their role because they excelled in their garden classes, but all students have played a role in planting the seeds, nurturing the plants and taking care of the beds.
Ed Thralls, of the Orange County Cooperative Extension, was present for the dedication and said the garden is “a wonderful learning opportunity for the children.”
He was pleased to see the amount of community support Tildenville has received and said the garden is sure to succeed because of it.
In addition to the edible garden made possible by Orlando Health Foundation and the West Orange Healthcare District, additional funds were secured through a Lowe’s Home Improvement “Toolbox for Education” grant to add several outdoor classroom features, a project workspace, and a butterfly garden and bird-watching area.
A worm garden allows the children to learn about composting, and many have found it relaxing to stick their hands in the cool dirt.
At the dedication, second-grader Riley Walker did a little harvesting, plucking ripe green arrow peas from the transplant garden and pulling up a radish from one of the other 12 garden beds.
“We have always had a desire to do this,” Burnett said. “You’ve taught them to grow their own food, you’ve taught them to fish. I can’t think of anything more rewarding.”
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].