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story.lead_photo.caption Derick Tyler, a second-grader at Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway, cuts cabbage leaves from one of the school’s raised garden beds to make a salad for taste-testing during a media event. Cabbage leaves and radishes grown by the elementary students were used to celebrate the garden program, which received a learning grant in the fall to fund five raised beds, a blender, knives, a cooking cart and a curriculum.

CONWAY — Sarah Lane was cheering for the carrots in the Ida Burns Elementary School learning garden in Conway.

“We have some carrots that look like they’re going to be ready next week, so I’m crossing my fingers that we can use them before the kids leave for the summer,” she said before school was out. May 24 was the students’ last day, and the carrots “looked good,” she said.

Lane is the FoodCorps service worker for the Conway School District, and she also helps with the garden at Carolyn Lewis Elementary School.

Ida Burns Elementary was one of three winners in the fall 2017 Captain Planet Project Learning Garden contest, which offered schools in Harps service areas the chance to win a $3,000 learning garden. The grant for the garden is sponsored by the Captain Planet Foundation, Dole and Harps.

All the elementary schools in the district have gardens, but this grant was for five additional raised beds, a mobile cooking cart so teachers could prepare food from the garden for their classes for a hands-on experience, knives, a blender and “curriculum to tie into academic standards,” Lane said.

Students use the garden to learn about food origins and math and in their writing across the curriculum.

The raised beds “came almost fully put together; some third- and fourth-graders helped,” she said. “A lot of kids have come out, and … we planted seeds and helped our garden grow in the November/December time. We’ve been lucky enough to really grow some stuff in February, March, up until now to really utilize the garden.”

Lane said most of the food is used in monthly cooking classes she leads for the students.

“We have been lucky enough to do a taste test in the cafeteria, where we chopped up sweet potatoes and made sweet-potato fries, and everybody got like a Dixie-cup size,” Lane said.

Bailey Sayers, 7, a second-grader at Ida Burns Elementary School, said, “We have all kinds of fruits and vegetables,” and she said the students who eat lunch in the cafeteria get to eat it. Salad from the garden is her favorite.

“We got to cut some of the plants out and make salads,” she said.

Bailey said the garden food is better for her teeth and healthier than sweets.

“If I eat too much sweets, I could get a stomachache,” she said.

A media event was held in May to recognize the garden coming to fruition, Lane said.

“We’ve installed the garden,” she said. “The kids know what’s happening. … Now’s the time to celebrate that we have this garden.”

Representatives of the Captain Planet Foundation, Dole and Harps participated in the event, as well as Ida Burns Principal Cindy Thacker, Superintendent Greg Murry and Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry.

“Childhood obesity is a significant and growing problem among students,” Murry said. “Students do not always make healthy choices about what to eat, and sometimes they are not even aware that there are healthy options. The garden project will give our students a very tangible and delicious way to learn about healthy eating habits. We are excited about changing our students’ eating behaviors for the better through this project.”

Lane, who has a degree in biology from Washington State University, said she plans to go to graduate school in San Antonio to get a master’s degree. This is her second year of the two-year FoodCorps program.

“The past two years have shown me I love teaching,” she said.

Lane said she will also help tend the gardens over the summer. Lane said 15 families had signed up for the Adopt-a-Garden program to “check [the beds] for weeds and harvest produce, so I am thrilled. We don’t want it to go to waste.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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