Students Grow More Than Food at Garden Project; Program Director Says It's Minds That Also Flourish in McIntosh Program

By Morrison, Mike | The Florida Times Union, April 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

Students Grow More Than Food at Garden Project; Program Director Says It's Minds That Also Flourish in McIntosh Program


Morrison, Mike, The Florida Times Union


Byline: MIKE MORRISON

DARIEN - Shimeka Shavers worked a row of collard greens, slicing her hoe into the dark, rich soil. Deer flies and gnats buzzed around her. She bent to the task, her head protected by a veil.

The McIntosh County Academy senior has a relationship with the vegetables she tends, and she won't let a few pesky insects drive her away.

She and five other students have a job that pays them a little and teaches them a lot.

As participants in McIntosh SEED's Beacons of Hope program, they tend a community garden and sell the produce they raise.

Shavers is a three-year veteran of the program.

"I've learned so much," she said Thursday, her veil lifted long enough to speak. "When I was younger, I thought our food came from the grocery store. I didn't know you had to grow it."

Shavers and her gardening comrades plow, plant, weed and water the two-acre plot on the grounds of the historic Ashantilly Center. And when the crops come in, they reap what they've sown, selling the produce at a farmers market at SEED headquarters on Columbus Square in Darien.

SEED stands for Sustainable Environmental and Economic Development, and in the case of the youths who work in the garden, their minds and integrity are being developed, SEED Director John Littles said.

"They get a lot out of this," Littles said. "They learn how to grow and nurture plants, they learn all of the environmental aspects of organic gardening, they learn what will grow in our soil, and they learn the value of hard work."

The youthful gardeners, who stay with the program until they graduate from high school, raise two crops a year, one in summer, the other in winter.

They grow vegetables, herbs and flowers - greens, lettuce, onions, strawberries, corn, cilantro, parsley, peas, beans and carrots - anything that will thrive in the South Georgia soil and bring a profit.

Shavers has taken a liking to the carrots they raise.

"The best thing I've learned out here is how to plant carrots," she said. "I love carrots. It's so interesting how they grow. They grow in the ground and you have to pull them up."

Those carrots and her gardening experiences have her leaning toward a career in food science once she serves a stint in the military, she said.

Wisconsin transplant Amy Schuster supervises the young gardeners.

"What we're trying to do out here is create a living classroom," she said, and not just for the regular crew of students.

Ashantilly Center, a nonprofit organization, offers classes related to gardening, she said.

But the kids do most of the gardening, spending at least one afternoon a week on the job, more when their school schedule allows. …

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