Middle school students in Valdosta learn gardening skills

Published By: Russell Boone May 3, 2019

Joshua Dawson, (left) Fort Valley State University’s Lowndes County Extension agent, provides spreader instructions to Anthony Aikens, a student attending J.L. Newbern Middle School in Valdosta.

Middle school students in Valdosta are learning the importance of agriculture with guidance from Fort Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension Program.

Lowndes County Extension agent Joshua Dawson, helped seventh-grade students attending J.L. Newbern Middle School build raised bed plant boxes to grow crops. The students also cleared land to plant pollinator flowers and trees.

Dawson’s work with the school gardens began in 2014 as a part of the Valdosta School Garden and Orchard Project. Through support from local sponsors and members of the community, it is designed to introduce Valdosta elementary and middle school students to gardening and agriculture.

Some of the crops grown in the gardens include sweet potatoes, collards, carrots and kale. The harvested produce is used by the schools’ cafeterias to serve during lunch and students are allowed to take produce home depending on the harvest size.

Assisting Dawson with the gardens are members of the local Master Gardener program. With his daily responsibilities as a county Extension agent, Dawson relies heavily on their support.

“Without the Master Gardeners, I don’t know if any of this would be possible. They look after the gardens and work with the teachers more closely than I, and provide necessary feet on the ground for a lot of things,” Dawson said.

Dr. Elena Ponder, principal of J.L. Newbern Middle School, said this project has engaged the students in the classroom and outside the classroom. She said working in the garden provides students with a cross curriculum where they apply different skills to solve problems. The principal said students write about working in the garden and apply math skills to measure the dimensions of land using acres, yards and meters.

At first the students expressed skepticism about working in the garden, but Dawson said those doubts vanished quickly.

“I like watering the plants, putting the (outdoor) tiles down and working with the soil,” said Anthony Aikens, a seventh-grader. Anthony, who said his favorite subject is science, wants to be a zoologist or a full-time gardener when he grows up.

Students and teachers from J.L. Newbern Middle School in Valdosta enjoy a moment with Master Gardeners and FVSU Lowndes County Extension agent Joshua Dawson (back row, second from right).

Additionally, Deanna Brooks, a seventh-grade life science teacher at Newbern, said her student’s interests in agriculture is piquing since working in the raised bed gardens. Brooks said her students now want to go out, teach and help educate other youths about gardening.

“Before then a lot of my kids would just go home, stay inside and play video games. Now, they’re shying away from their video games and want to be outside,” Brooks said.

Dawson said that by working in the gardens, children will learn where their food comes from and become introduced to the agriculture industry. The FVSU Extension agent also said if students aren’t interested in the agriculture industry, they can still benefit from their agricultural experience.

“Once you plant a seed, you have to attend to that seed. That shows you have the work ethic, patience and time to put into something.  Hopefully, that will translate into work related skills they can apply to jobs in the future,” Dawson said.

For more information about the Valdosta School Garden and Orchard Project, contact Dawson at (229) 333-5185 or dawsonj01@fvsu.edu.