Isabela Potter and Sophia Hicks dug their hands into the mud, pulling out bok choy plants with a lot of gusto.
When the green leafy vegetable is all cleaned up, it’ll be chopped for soups or stir fry at the Lake Placid Montessori Academy.
Almost every day, teacher aide Sereana McMillan brings her class to the school vegetable patch, which has become a model that local Master Gardeners hope to emulate for community gardens at schools and daycares.
About two months ago, the fenced area at the back of the school was “barebones,” remembered Charlie Reynolds, who helps run the Master Gardener program at the Highlands County Extension Service.
“Now, most of the Master Gardeners try to take notes,” he grinned.
The school had been trying to incorporate gardening and other Earth-friendly activities into its curriculum, remembered Melissa Stockenberg, the assistant head of school.
They tried hanging pots and other things until Stockenberg got a flier in the mail about a Florida School Garden Competition sponsored by the University of Florida, which also supports the extension service statewide.
She called a number listed on it and got connected with Reynolds.
“It all started from there,” she added.
Today, almost 20 to 25 types of veggies grow in containers big and small. Isabela pointed out the carrot and the onion plants, which they also got a chance to eat when the last crop was harvested.
Also planted are blueberries, strawberries, sweet peas, starfruit, bananas – and even cilantro, growing in a kid’s wagon.
The school’s owner and director Jennifer Payne said the core of Montessori teaching is respecting yourself, others and the community; one way of doing that is by being Earth-friendly.
“A garden encompasses all that,” she said.
The students help in nurturing their little veggie patch, and they are proud of what it’s become.
“This is the best garden of all,” Isabela declared.
Growing their own veggies and fruits has also exposed the kids to foods they may not otherwise encounter or eat.
It has also made science hands-on for the students and taught them that “food does not come from a grocery store,” said Stockenberg.
Down the road, Payne hopes to plant some vine-like vegetables along the fence and get a butterfly garden and a melon patch going.
Wednesday, she was also sporting a Montessori Mulch Monsters Garden Club shirt, the name of a 4-H club they plan to start.
Reynolds, who is now helping the Sebring and Avon Park Boys & Girls Club with their veggie garden, said a lot of people made their first project involving kids possible.
The Master Gardeners, Robbins Nursery and Archbold Biological Station donated some of the plants, the seeds and the containers.
“It was a community thing,” he said.