In sunny Saint Petersburg, Florida, a new type of learning has been sprouting up in eight elementary schools. Once empty lots and unused school spaces are being revitalized into interactive exploratory classrooms for students where picnic tables replace desks and tree stumps serve as chairs. Edible Peace Patch Project, the group leading this school garden transformation, operates with a mission “to cultivate healthy minds and bodies through hands-on educational gardens.”
Edible Peace Patch Project, or EPPP, works primarily with Title-I schools of Pinellas County, where schools are often located in food deserts or areas that lack access to affordable or high-quality fresh food. The Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation and EPPP first teamed up in the spring of 2021 when EPPP was awarded a $7,500 donation to improve a small garden at Lakewood Elementary. Then, in the fall of 2021, EPPP was awarded a $10,000 Sprouts Neighborhood Grant to transform the once empty schoolyard of Fairmount Park Elementary into a garden haven.
Fairmount Park and Lakewood Elementary are just two out of the eight high-need schools that EPPP has partnered with to install green garden spaces for learning and for providing students with access to healthy garden-grown foods. These school gardens provide a unique way for 400 second to fifth grade students to engage in an eight-week outdoor learning program. During their science period, the students are outside in their garden classroom studying and learning about scientific concepts, wellness, teamwork, and healthy eating. EPPP has enhanced the curriculum this year to include more garden work, bug lessons, wildlife sightings, and seeding projects. These lessons are part of the curriculum crafted with Pinellas County School Board, designed to meet Florida State learning standards.
This garden-style learning provides a multitude of benefits for students as it improves their academic performance, knowledge, behavior, and attitude. Working in the soil with the plants also increases students’ nutritional knowledge and willingness to try new fruits and vegetables. Class attendance has risen with the garden program as kids are excited to participate in hands-on learning, and participation has also increased academic scores and information retention.
At the end of the program, the children celebrate with the harvest festival, where they enjoy their accomplishments in the garden by harvesting and taking home the produce that they grew. They also play games, get seed kits for at-home gardening and become honorary gardeners for the school. Any leftover produce is donated to the school cafeteria for student lunches.
EPPP is supported by community volunteers and staff from their parent organization, R’Club. R’Club is known throughout Pinellas County as the premier leader in before and after school care for Pre-K, preschool, middle school, and special needs children, serving more than 5,000 kids each year. It has a vast network of 50+ locations, including low-cost and no-cost care options.
To learn more about Edible Peace Patch Project, visit their website. Or, if you’re interested in becoming a garden volunteer, follow this link to get involved and help bring interactive, fun, and educational lessons to Saint Petersburg’s kids!