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story.lead_photo.caption Mayflower Elementary School is the overall winner of the 2017 Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year contest. Shown in the garden, along with the plaque the school received, are, from left, Lynn Raney, Mayflower Elementary School literary coach; Brooke-Long Lasley, a Mayflower High School graduate who spearheaded the effort to build the garden; and Candie Watts, Mayflower Elementary School principal. - Photo by William Harvey

MAYFLOWER — Passers-by on busy Arkansas 365 might glance toward Mayflower Elementary School and wonder what is happening on campus. Easily seen from the highway are several large raised garden beds with plants still growing in them even as winter approaches.

The school garden was recently named the overall winner of the 2017 Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year contest, sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit of Arkansas, which provided monetary awards. The school received $1,000, a plaque and recognition by Gov. Asa Hutchinson during a special ceremony Nov. 13 at the state Capitol in Little Rock.

Lynn Raney, literary coach at Mayflower Elementary School, said the idea for a school garden surfaced a couple of years ago when Brooke Long-Lasley, a graduate of Mayflower High School, approached her about the idea.

“She is a friend of mine, a parent and a dietetics student at the University of Central Arkansas [in Conway],” Raney said. “We met with school officials to see how we could make this happen. Much of the work was done by community volunteers.”

Long-Lasley said Nikki Reagan of H&M Farms of Mayflower donated broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, squash and cucumber plants and daylily flowers from her farm.

“The fruit and vegetable plants were planted in April by third- and fourth-grade students,” Long-Lasley said. “Nikki advised students while they planted broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants.

“Tom Stanton, owner of the Flower Depot in Mayflower, donated mulch, compost, sand, flowers and fruit and vegetable plants and seeds.”

Long-Lasley said Richard and Andrea Cleaver of Culberson Greenhouse in Mayflower donated mint, oregano, thyme, basil, cilantro, lavender, parsley, rosemary, lemongrass, sage and a variety of flowers.

“We developed an herb garden and used the flowers in a flower bed,” she said. “Fourth-grade students planted and took home mint plants and flowers during garden workdays.”

Other donors include Jeff, Jeffrey and Mesa Lasley of Lasley Heat and Air Conditioning in Greenbrier, who donated lumber and built five raised garden beds and the herb garden, as well as supplying compost and mulch; Kevin and Annice Dillon of Rogers and Dillon Excavating of Mayflower, who donated lumber for three raised garden beds, trash bags, paper towels, paint and dish soap; Chris and Shawna Long of Custom Network Solution in Conway, who donated paper towels, paint for the garden beds, trash bags, paint brushes and paint pans; and Janice Stroud of Stroud’s Diner in Mayflower, who donated compost, mulch and flowers for the flower bed and garden to prepare for fall planting.

Raney said the third- and fourth-graders were the most involved students in the garden project.

“We planted it this past spring,” she said. “We had broccoli, cauliflower, squash, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes … early vegetables,” she said. “The students ate most of it in the cafeteria. We had a lot of salads and dips.

“We just harvested the lettuce before Thanksgiving break,” she said.

Long-Lasley graduated from Mayflower High School in 2007. She graduated from UCA in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in family and consumer sciences with an emphasis in dietetics and nutrition and is now working on her master’s degree.

“I want to be a registered dietitian,” she said.

Long-Lasley said she hopes the money the school received can be used to buy a compost building and maybe a storage building or a greenhouse that can also be used for storage.

“Winning the Overall School Garden of the Year Award sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit is not only a tribute to the fulfillment of Brooke’s dream, but also an opportunity for our school community to continue to grow our outdoor classroom,” said Candie Watts, principal of Mayflower Elementary School. “The outdoor classroom provides authentic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning experiences.

“Many of our students lack access to fresh vegetables,” Watts said. “This is a great opportunity for all of our students to experience things they may have never tasted, while learning to be good stewards of the land.”

Watts said the fourth-grade science-class teacher, Tonya Hogue, and her students have been monitoring the growth of the plants as they learn about scientific standards.

Watts said although the fourth-grade class may have been most involved in the school-garden project, “all kids have access to the garden.”

During the awards ceremony at the state Capitol, Hutchinson said, “School gardens create valuable teaching experiences because they incorporate hands-on activities with lessons in food production, good nutrition and the overall importance of agriculture. I commend the efforts of educators, students and partners involved with making communities healthier through student-led food initiatives like school gardens.”

Adriane Barnes, director of communications, Arkansas Agriculture Department, said the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit of Arkansas started the contest in 2014 to promote the importance of involving young people in the process of fresh-food production and cultivation. Any Arkansas school, grades pre-K-12, with a working school garden during the 2016-2017 school year, or with a startup proposal for the 2017-2018 school year, was eligible to apply.

“As a farmer-owned cooperative, we believe it’s important to support local food-system initiatives such as the Arkansas Grown School Garden Program,” said James McJunkins, Farm Credit Midsouth President and CEO, on behalf of the Farm Credit cooperatives of Arkansas. “Local food projects like this are a great way to educate the next generation and the public about food production and agriculture.”

The Arkansas Grown program promotes food and products grown in Arkansas by Arkansas producers and helps make the connection between growers and buyers. Arkansas Grown is a program of the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

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