It had the quality of a good, old-fashioned treasure hunt.
Darlena Goodwin of the Charleston Area Children's Garden Project talked with a group of day campers from the East Side's Martin Park gathered around several small plots of organic vegetables and flowers planted in front of the temporary location of Sanders-Clyde Elementary last Friday morning.
Thick, green leaves on vines covered the jewels below.
Goodwin asked the kids to gently move the leaves aside and find what was attached to the vine. The kids quickly plucked out a dozen cucumbers with delight.
One boy shouted out, "pickles!"
Goodwin smiled and politely noted that pickles are made from cucumbers. Then, a few kids took the cucumbers to wash them off and eat them — right there on the spot.
The early summer harvest, the first of many, is fruit of a collaboration that started when Slow Food Charleston's Carole Addlestone wanted to start a school garden project. Slow Food is a local chapter of Slow Food USA, which promotes sustainable, locally grown and prepared food. Addlestone contacted Yo Art Project's Gene Furchgott, who then asked Garden Project's Goodwin to help out.
The result was gardening not only as a source of food but as a multidisciplinary educational tool.
Goodwin, a former classroom math and science teacher, is adept at weaving lessons — biology, math and even history — in and out of the tour of the garden. She is the executive director of the Garden Project, which manages nearly a dozen gardens in the Charleston area. When introducing herself to the day campers last week, she described herself as a teacher who disliked "making a kid sit in a classroom, at a desk, stand in line and be quiet.
"The kind of teacher I am is to let kids go outside and play in the dirt," Goodwin says.
Furchgott's role was in teaching the kids how to document the progress of the garden through photographs, interviews and journals. The effort is expected to be documented in a small publication later this year, partly as a way to promote the collaboration to other schools in the future.
This spring, with Slow Food as the sponsor, Goodwin helped the second-graders at Sanders-Clyde plant the garden, which unfortunately started bearing fruit only after school was out for the summer.
Principal Melvin Middleton welcomed the garden for its educational, aesthetic and morale-boosting benefits.
"More than likely, this is (the students') first experience with a garden because these kids are mostly from the urban area," says Middleton, noting that the timing of it coincided perfectly with an organic garden being planted at the White House, an effort led by first lady Michelle Obama.
Middleton says he hopes a garden will be a part of Sanders-Clyde when it moves into its new school building in January 2010.
Addlestone says the garden is a pilot project and hopes to start similar projects in schools and with other community groups. Each garden, however, costs about $6,000 for supplies and the help of master gardeners.
"I'm very excited about this project," says Addlestone. "It's gone very well and I look forward to doing more."
Supporting Slow Food Charleston
Slow Food Charleston will be holding a Bring-Your-Own-Picnic event 4-8 p.m. Sunday at Thackeray Farms on Wadmalaw Island. The event, a fundraiser for Slow Food's organic garden project, will feature live bluegrass by Ricky Rio of Legare Farms, a pie auction by auctioneer Mitchell Crosby, farm tours with Shawn Thackeray and Rita Bachmann of Rita's Roots, and a book signing by "Southern Farmers Market Cookbook" writer Holly Herrick.The event is $10 for Slow Food members and $20 for nonmembers. Slow Food Charleston's Web site currently is under construction, but those with questions can contact Slow Food Charleston President Carole Addlestone at firstname.lastname@example.org.