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Growing more than a garden

Butler Elementary offers hands-on learning

—Messenger photo by Chris Johnson
Erica Loerts, left, the Community Wellness outreach coordinator at the Webster County Health Department, and Butler Elementary Principal Carmen Banwart pull weeds at the Butler Garden.

Planting, growing and harvesting your own food can be a rewarding experience, and for students at Butler Elementary School it has been a valuable tool.

The Webster County Public Health Department received a grant that funds the garden at Butler Elementary, where students are able to watch the process.

The garden, which is located inside a locking fence at the school, has four raised planting beds. The fruits and vegetables change each year for a variety of choices.

Planted in the beds this year are strawberries, cantaloupe, lettuce and kale. Students and families can help with the garden through the summer, pulling weeds, watering and harvesting.

Erica Loerts, who is the community wellness outreach coordinator at the Webster County Public Health Department, enjoys being part of the project.

—Messenger photo by Chris Johnson
Pictured from left, Aavae Rogers, Mya Kuhn, Erica Loerts and Carmen Banwart pull weeds in the Butler garden.

“This is my third year to be part of it,” Loerts said. “I love it and it’s exciting to see the kids work with the plants. It falls right in line with our Pick a better snack project.”

The Pick a better snack project is funded by United States Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Pick a better snack brings fruits and vegetables into the classroom for kindergarten through third grade students all over Iowa.

Nutrition educators teach short interactive lessons once a month. Kids learn about kiwi, spinach, zucchini, pears and more.

With the garden, the students get to see the plants produced at different times of the year.

“They learn about the plant parts and harvest,” Loerts said. “They will get to see the late harvest of the cantaloupe and pumpkins and also see the kale and lettuce grow.”

—Submitted photo
Annabell Johnson, left; JL Johnson, in the box; and Ashlynn Johnson pull corn stalks last year in the Butler garden.

Carmen Banwart, the principal at Butler, enjoys the fact that the students get the chance for hands-on learning and are able to be a part of the whole process.

“The students get to play in the dirt and transition from the classroom,” Banwart said. “They get to see the production of the garden, which coincides with Pick a snack that we have in school.

“They can see how it grows and learn healthy eating practices.”

In a brochure provided by the Webster County Health Department, they explain that kids love to eat what they help grow and love learning when they are involved in the process. It benefits the students by improved academic achievement, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, improved student behavior, enhanced psychological development of youth and encourages hands-on opportunities.

Families and students can volunteer in the garden at Butler. According to Loerts, volunteers are needed for watering, weeding and picking produce to take home and enjoy.

“Erica does a lot of work with the garden,” Banwart said. “It’s a great partnership with the school district and the Webster County Health Department.

“Students learn best with hands-on learning and this is a great place to do that.”

Anyone interested in volunteering in the garden can contact Loerts at the Webster County Health Department at 573-4107.

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