The (Bloomington) Pantagraph
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — About 440 students of Pepper Ridge Elementary School spent part of May 13 digging in dirt and planting and watering strawberry, green pepper, tomato, cucumber and watermelon plants.
The goal is nothing less than a healthier Bloomington-Normal.
A teaching garden was planted and dedicated in front of the McLean County Unit 5 school on Bloomington’s southwest side in a collaboration between the school district, Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and the American Heart Association. The Pepper Ridge garden expands a program that began with a garden at Unit 5’s Cedar Ridge Elementary School last year.
“This provides our students with a real-life experience. Some of them have never planted before,” Pepper Ridge Principal Sarah Edwards said after the dedication. Students are learning the importance of eating fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet, she said.
Jen Corbly, a Pepper Ridge first-grade teacher and garden coordinator, said Kane Hilt, Unit 5 special maintenance and grounds employee, designed and built the raised garden bed and Corbly and her husband, Brian, tilled the soil during the weekend. On Monday, students worked in the garden one grade at a time.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity to teach our kids about nutrition, to get ‘em to try vegetables and to build awareness among their families of the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Corbly said.
After planting green peppers, fifth-graders Jasmine Alexander, Kellen Beaty and Noah Anderson — all 11-year-olds from Bloomington — said they liked having a garden at school, even though they would be moving on to junior high in August.
“People who work here won’t have to buy so much,” Beaty said. “They can harvest the food and put it in lunches.”
“Schools are trying to have healthier foods and this is easier than buying it,” Anderson said. “You just pick it out of the garden.”
During summer, some Pepper Ridge families will join Corbly in watering and maintaining the garden. Corbly wants Pepper Ridge students to take over weeding and watering when they return in August and to have a harvest day in the fall.
“We want to expose younger kids to the benefits of healthy eating and to help them to learn and experience how tasty fruits and vegetables are, so hopefully they can incorporate them into their diet,” said Advocate BroMenn President Colleen Kannaday.
“Kids with a healthy diet are more likely to grow up to be adults with a healthy diet.”