In a low-income neighborhood in southeast Portland, the Oregon State University Extension Service and Portland State University are taking children out of the classroom and into the greenhouse. Under the program, the six-graders at Lane Middle School spend time each week studying among arugula, beets, carrots and cabbage at the 12-acre Learning Garden Laboratory, which is across the street from their school.
“We want to help the students understand where their food comes from,” said OSU Extension horticulturist Weston Miller, who manages the site with help from Extension program assistant Beret Halverson. “We do this by having them get their hands dirty.”
But their education goes beyond gardening. They’ve also learned about biological diversity, food chains and the lifecycle of earthworms. They’ve taste-tested pears, dunked potatoes in water and watched them sprout roots, drunk tea made from Oregon grapes, watched birds, and made sauerkraut to learn about fermentation. The instruction fits in with the students’ science curriculum and takes place during the time slotted for their science classes.
This month, the students will see the fruits of their labors in the garden when they harvest radishes they helped plant. The radishes will be served in Portland Public Schools this month as part of the district’s Harvest of the Month program, which dishes up an Oregon-grown fruit or vegetable on lunch trays twice a month.
Over the next two months, the garden is expected to donate about 800 pounds of radishes to the school district’s cafeterias, Miller said.