Gary Knox garden cultivates learning, harvests higher test scores

Third-grade students in Trish Fajardo's class at Gary A. Knox Elementary School cover up the butter lettuce and red leaf lettuce seeds they planted in one of the beds in the school's garden Friday morning. The planting session was overseen by personnel from JV Smith Companies, sponsor of the garden.

After less than a year of having a garden program on their campus, Gary Knox Elementary School staff are seeing positive results from the endeavor.

Principal Laura Hurt said, “Our kids learn so much from the garden. The science test results of the fourth-grade students increased 17 percent over last year’s numbers, which I believe is a result of the garden.”

The “Garden of Learning,” which features 63 beds, was constructed in the fall of 2012, thanks to more than $55,000 in donations from major sponsor JV Farms in addition to Gowan Seed; Rain for Rent; Dahl, Robins and Associates; Western Growers Foundation; West Coast Soil Amendments; JSA Landscape; and Zellers Excavating and Paving.

Students recently began the initial planting process for their next round of crops that will include items such as carrots, red leaf lettuce, broccoli, spinach, spring mix, strawberries and butter lettuce.

Vic Smith, owner of JV Smith Company, started the project to teach children about healthy eating and also create an opportunity for them to have hands-on experience with gardening.

He said that he couldn’t be more pleased at how the project has turned out.

“I’m thrilled with the success of the program and the excitement I see in the kids when they are harvesting their crops,” Smith said.

JV Farms General Manager Matt McGuire and his team have worked on the garden with the students to make sure that it is maintained and continues to prosper. They also are onsite during planting days, prepping beds and fixing broken irrigation pipes.

Fatima Corona, the food safety expert for JV Smith Companies said, “In addition to planting and harvesting, we integrate food safety education so that the students understand all aspects of what it takes grow fresh produce. Our food safety initiatives are a priority to the fresh produce industry so we want to emphasize this to the students as well.”

Hurt added that in an attempt to have a self-sustaining garden, depending on what their harvest looks like they plan to hold a farmer’s market on Saturdays in the future.

“The commitment from JV Smith Companies has been amazing and we are thrilled to have their support. We also want to do our part and perhaps some of the funds from the farmer’s market can help pay for more student tools and resources,” she said.

Another aspect of the garden is the opportunity it’s given students to give back to the community. While students have been taking products they grow home to share with their families, they also donated 675 pounds of zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, watermelons, and honeydew to the Yuma Community Food Bank after their June harvest.

Corona said that ultimately the garden is a win-win for students, families, the school and the agriculture industry; something she hopes will inspire the students as they grow into adults.

“It has been a great pleasure for our team to work with the children and share our passion which is agriculture. Hopefully we have planted that seed in them and one day they too will have the same passion. They are our future farmers.”

Visit www.jvsmithcompanies.com for more about JV Smith Companies or contact Hurt at 373-5500 for more information about the Gary Knox garden.

Sarah Womer can be reached at swomer@yumasun.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.

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