A long wait, constant care yield healthy meals for Mary Woodward fifth-graders

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-grader Bella Anderson writes journals about changes in the garden at Mary Woodward Elementary School. Her teacher Heather Miller uses the schools garden as part of her science curriculum.Students at Mary Woodward Elementary School got the chance this week to taste the fruits of their labor.

Well, the vegetables of their labor, technically.

A year ago, fourth-graders at the Tigard school learned about “three sisters” planting: An ages-old agricultural technique used by Native Americans where squash, corn and beanstalks are planted together.

The three vegetables benefit one another, said school volunteer Jo Noren.

The beans provide nitrogen to the soil, while the corn gives the beans a stalk to climb, and the squash deters pests.

“In so many ways, it’s a sustainable gardening practice,” Noren said.

After planting the vegetables in the school’s garden this spring, students have watched the plants grow as they tended the garden.

Classes on Tuesday got the chance to make burritos using the ingredients from the garden.

“They harvested and are eating the crops that they planted,” said fifth-grade teacher Heather Miller. “It has been so fun getting the kids out here.”

The school’s expansive garden is often used in classroom projects, said Noren, who taught kindergarten at the school before retiring in 2009.

“We are using the garden as a teaching tool,” Noren said. “It’s exciting, the role that the garden is playing in the classroom.”

The three sisters plants are only one way students are using the garden as a learning tool, Noren said.

Kindergartners planted green beans after reading “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Miller and fellow fifth-grade teacher Megan Sheffels have written a science curriculum for their students utilizing the garden to accentuate their lessons, such as how animals and plants work together.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-graders Zack Chesler and Isaam Elogbi fix themselves a bean burrito made with beans and lettuce grown at the Mary Woodward Elementary School garden. The students planted the beans last school year.Students in Miller’s fifth-grade class spent Tuesday examining the garden and tracking changes in the plants and flowers in journals.

The observations and writing exercise have become a regular part of students’ scholastic routine, Miller said.

“When they came out three weeks ago, it was all different,” Miller noted. “The garden was harvested this weekend. All the vegetables, corn, beans — it was all there. Now, it’s all gone.”

Every few weeks, students return to the garden and examine how weather and the changing seasons impact the garden.

“One of the kids was sitting out here, and a mole burrowed up right next to him,” Miller said. “How cool was that?”

Learning about sustainable harvesting practices, such as the three sisters planting technique, and how the garden works, is important for kids to know because it helps expand their view of the world, Noren explained.

“It’s a good example of helping them see where their food comes from,” she said.

Nancy Ross, who runs the garden and works as a secretary at Mary Woodward, said she often hears students say they have never worked in a garden before.

“A lot will say, ‘I’ve never planted seeds.’ This way, they can see the process all the way through,” Ross said. “It doesn’t just come from a can.”

The garden also gives students a new appreciation for nature, Ross said.

“They get to sit still and listen,” Ross said. “We get the kids to experience nature. They get to stop and be quiet and just listen to nature.”

Mary Woodward Elementary School is located at 12325 S.W. Katherine St., in Tigard.

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