Freedom Crossing Academy

The Freedom Crossing Academy school kitchen recycles. They also use the parts of produce that are not used as compost in their gardens. Students bring in coffee grounds and eggshells from home to add to this. The students have also contributed dried leaves from raked yards and cardboard boxes for bed floors to promote earthworm homes in the garden dirt.

Students learn through soil study and recipe research. Produce is used for fundraising and community service. The school has donated vegetables in the past to the needy. Students and staff have volunteered at local cook-off events. They have participated in the Saint Johns County Souper-Bowl, which raises funds for Blessings in a Back Pack and in a Chili cook-off for Daniel’s Kids of Jacksonville.

Mrs. Marabell’s 4th grade class just planted seedlings for Spring Crops!

Gamble Rogers Middle School

Science Teacher Mr. Kevin Gamble has built an amazing horticulture class in their 8th year. It started as a club and has moved to an environmental elective and has become a horticulture/agriscience elective. This class focuses on student-led gardening, using the school campus as part of their classroom. It has grown each year so that now, the entire courtyard in the school has become a garden. Thanks to numerous grants and assistance from the community, the program now boasts a hydroponics system for strawberry growth and vertical garden sets for growing greens and herbs.

When Hurricane Matthew destroyed their greenhouse, Mr. Gamble partnered with Pedro Menendez High School Building Program. The students at Pedro Menendez designed and built the new greenhouse. Many of the students were former students of Mr. Gamble. They now use the greenhouse for seed germination and succulent and herb growth.

This program gets support from a multitude of people and organizations. Teachers share ideas for different projects they find on Pinterest and other sources. The custodial staff is a constant source of assistance. Bill and Bryanne Hamilton of Southern Horticulture donate soil and mulch and offer great advice. Wells Farm donates seed potatoes every year. Ace Hardware on US 1 provides good deals on plants, tools and great advice. Kathy Ponce of IFAS Family Food & Nutrition Outreach provides fertilizers, compost, seeds and equipment.

What do the students learn? They learn how to prepare soil, map a garden, set up and maintain a hydroponic system and test the PH of soil. They document the growth of their plants, and after harvesting them, they eat them in class, or out in the garden! Classroom learning includes the need for food diversity, plant reproductions, global agriculture, pollinators, plant diseases, pesticides and the green revolution. Once they harvest their vegetables, they learn about nutrition, keeping a food journal and discussing processed vs. unprocessed foods. They also learn about fresh food deserts and the importance of produce accessibility.

According to Mr. Gamble, what the program needs is super gardening enthusiast to come in to school once a week to help grow the program. Volunteers welcome!

Sebastian Middle School

Teachers Debbie Nall, Megan Johns and Robert Raimann are using their greenhouse to enhance learning into 7th grade Agriculture and Technology classes. The greenhouse, installed at the beginning of last school year, was made possible by a donation by the Halbrook Family Foundation. The students are growing produce, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, carrots and basil and spinach. They have started plants from seed and have used flowers to learn how to propagate plants using cuttings.

The program has included collaboration with students from the First Coast Technical College Agriscience program. They have helped with resources to get the greenhouse started.

One of the fun outcomes from their growing efforts was the harvesting of pickling cucumbers and making pickles out of them. The 7th graders then sampled their harvest, to rave reviews. A common quote in each class was “Those pickles look like cucumbers!”

They also have a compost bin and are learning to make their own fertilizer. Classroom lessons that accompany the hands-on education of the greenhouse includes studying how satellites can now show what fields are fertile, allowing for spot fertilizing instead of widespread. This is better for the fields and our water sources. The students also played Journey 2050, a virtual simulation that explores world food sustainability. It was a great crossover for both virtual and in person students.

The 8th grade Green Construction and Architecture class explored the concept of a Net-Zero School. Simply put, Net Zero means consuming only as much energy as produced, achieving a sustainable balance between water availability and demand, and eliminating solid waste sent to landfills. They learned about renewal energy, and presented their ideas for ways for the school to move toward the goal of being a net-zero system.

As a wrap up at the end of the course, students were asked how they could make the greenhouse better. Student suggestions included ways to recycle water, use rain barrels, make a more efficient watering system and measuring the moisture in the soil so plants are only watered when they need it.

Coca Cola Florida has donated 4 rain barrels, so in the future, students will determine the optimal location where to place these, and how to use this water as an irrigation system.

This semester, STEM Coach Courtney Taylor will involve her students in projects in the greenhouse.

The community support and innovation of these teachers have provided a great new environment for hands on learning for their students, benefitting all involved. They will be looking for ways to build on this in the future.

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