Volunteers help Angel Oak expand gardens

Angel Oak Elementary School Principal Rodney Moore.

Would you let your 8-year-old do your grocery shopping?

That’s what parents at Angel Oak Elementary School are doing. Angel Oak partners with the Charleston Area Children’s Garden Project to teach students about the importance of nutrition and growing fresh produce.

“Children need to understand the connections of everything. It’s the circle of life. They need to understand where their food comes from and the science behind it,” said Darlena Goodwin, garden project executive director.

In the fall, they started a school farmers market that will reopen today. The program buys excess produce from local farmers, and students are allotted time during the day to pick out items their parents have selected in advance.

Goodwin said the market gives families a chance to purchase fresh produce at a low cost, and food stamps are accepted. The money the school makes from the market goes back into the program to purchase more produce.

Students can take home food and recipes prepared by a chef who uses the items at the market. The school also offers families a six-week cooking class. But Goodwin said having the farmer’s market alone is not enough. She said students need to garden themselves to appreciate fresh produce and learn about it’s importance.

“Students are eating it and taking it home with all of the education behind it,” Goodwin said.

Volunteers from Brown-Forman, a Newport Beach, Calif., beverage company, spent time last week gardening with students while visiting Kiawah Island for a conference. They also helped contractors build an outdoor classroom and greenhouse.

“It’s a chance not only to team build, but to give back,” said Chris Burt, Brown-Forman vice president and west division managing director. The company sent out 200 volunteers all over the Lowcountry during their visit.

Burt said his wife is a teacher, so he knows it’s important to teach children about sustainability.

“The future is here,” he said pointing to the school.

Brown-Forman volunteers Gene Tuey and Michael Tipton worked with fourth-graders Julia Group, Tomas Pacheco and Finn Wilkerson on a raised strawberry bed garden.

“We learned that if we plant it we can make anything grow,” Tomas said.

“And that guys from Southern California are cool!” they all shouted.

Angel Oak Garden Project lead teacher Ashley Condon said the garden integrates many subjects like math and science and helps students “learn from doing.”

“They love it. ... It’s a great opportunity to teach kids. It gives them a head start and an opportunity to take it home where it can be repeated,” Condon said.

Angel Oak Principal Rodney Moore said the goal is to “educate the entire child.” In addition the farmers market, cooking classes and garden project, the school offers different exercise programs.

“When you engage a child with all of their senses, they can internalize material better,” he said. “If their body is healthy, their mind is healthy.”

The students and volunteers planted four apples trees and other fruits last week. Goodwin said they also plan to collect rainwater in barrels and plant other things around the outdoor classroom when it is complete.

For information on the Charleston Area Children’s Garden Project, go to www.childrensgardenproject.org.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.