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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 29 2013

Bennett garden plants seeds of science, healthy harvest

FARGO – There will soon be a garden of eatin’ at Bennett Elementary School.

Two classes of fourth-graders and some 4-H Club members – about 50 kids in all – planted 200 plants and several packs of seeds Wednesday in a garden plot on the school’s south side.

Tre Hendrickson, 11, quickly dug in several tomato plants in the heavy, black soil.

“It’s fun to grow, fun to plant, fun to dig the seeds and fun to get dirty,” Hendrickson said.

Piper Zander, 9, seconded him on the good to be had in getting grubby.

“I really like to get dirty,” she said.

She also can’t wait for the tomato plants to start producing. “At home, my mom makes BLTs,” she said.

Cynthia Varriano coordinates the project. The fourth-grade teacher hopes the students learn to grow their own healthy food.

“There’s enough here to feed a village,” Varriano said. “It becomes their own garden. They take ownership of it.”

The fourth-graders were mentored on how to start and grow their veggies from seed by North Dakota State University plant sciences students.

Varriano said the Bennett bunch learned some of the science of agriculture, monitored the growth of the plants and sketched them as they developed. This is the second year for the garden project. Last fall, the fourth-graders harvested a bumper crop, Varriano said. There was salsa to spare, and vegetable soup on the menu for three weeks, she said.

This time out, students planted several rows of tomatoes, plus eggplant, peppers, beans, zucchini, onions, cucumbers, carrots, peas, beets, corn, radishes and Swiss chard, bordered in spots by marigolds, said Naomi Zurn, the Bennett 4-H Club adviser.

“They have really taken to this, being able to get in there and get their hands dirty,” Zurn said.

Zurn said she and her 4-H’ers plan to keep the garden up through the summer. Every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., it will become a garden of weedin’, she said.

Ed Deckard, a plant sciences professor at NDSU, and his wife, Brenda, joined several community and PTA volunteers in the plant-a-thon. The Deckards helped get the NDSU students involved.

“This is a pretty good project to see where food comes from,” Ed Deckard said. “It brings science to life for them. It’s very cool.”

The gardening party had started with a sprinkle, but the dark, heavy clouds held off as the children bustled away with hoes and garden trowels.

“We’re not afraid of a little water,” Varriano quipped about halfway through the project.

It may have been a cue. In 20 minutes, a few random raindrops had turned into a steady shower.

With a few rumbles of thunder to chase them, the children broke for the school doors, screaming happily and trailing muddy footprints.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583