School kids cultivate connection to dirt, health through garden practicum

HURRICANE — On Thursday morning some 87 fifth grade students from Three Falls Elementary School gathered at the Hurricane Valley School and Community Garden to learn techniques for gardening and tips for healthy eating. This is the second year that Hurricane High School agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor, Dustin Dayley, along with Dee and Lisa Atkin organized this event as a collaboration between fifth grade students, FFA members and high school students.

Since its inception, the vision for the community garden has been to utilize the land, owned and operated by the Atkins, as an open-air classroom to help students gain an understanding of farming and the immediate connection it has to humanity.

Students rotated through a series of five stations: compost, types of planting, eating smart, technology and soil which engaged students through different hands-in-dirt exercises and visual examples.


Volunteers use pitchforks to scoop goat bedding into a bin to make compost at the Hurricane Valley School and Community Garden, Hurricane, Utah, May 8, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Dee Atkin taught about the ingredients that create the richest soils and the differences between hot and cold compost. Two volunteers from each group were chosen to mix up cold compost by scooping dirty hay (premium goat bedding), lawn clippings and an activator (plain old dirt) into a bin. This ratio of 30 browns to one green with a dash of activator is the premium mixture for a nutrient rich soil, Dee Atkin said.

“The health of your body is linked to the health of the soil,” he said. “Goat bedding provides a great brown because it’s rich in carbon and has a lot of bacteria from the manure.”

Types of Planting

Students were taught two methods of planting: seeds and cuttings. Each student received two small pots, cucumber seeds and three thin cuttings from a spider plant that FFA President Carina Terry cut and then showed the students what side to dip into the growth hormone and then stick it cut-side down into the dirt.

“Do you have to eat the spider plant?” one of the kids said, with sounds of disgust.

Students learn to plant cucumber seeds at the Hurricane Valley School and Community Garden, Hurricane, Utah, May 8, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Having the opportunity to teach skills for agriculture to the younger generations is very rewarding because it impacts how the younger generation looks at life and their understanding about how food came to the table, Terry said.

“I hope the kids take from this experience that this is where we came from and everyone used to grow their own food and be a part of agriculture,” Terry said.

Eating Smart

The Eating Smart Station, led by Lisa Atkin, discussed healthy food choices and how to select them by reading ingredients labels. Cheaper foods like Western Family ice cream revealed a long list of ingredients that were mostly unfamiliar, whereas Häagen-Dazs ice cream had five simple ingredients: milk, eggs, vanilla, cream and sugar.

“The most important thing with eating right is to read the ingredient label and understand that if there is a long list of ingredients then it’s probably not good for you,” said Chelsi Cahoon, who has been involved with the community garden since its inception.

Paul Hill shows how technology is linked with farming by shooting off a plastic rocket at the Hurricane Valley School and Community Garden, Hurricane, Utah, May 8, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News


Extension professor for Washington County and 4-H Club agent, Paul Hill, managed the Technology and Robots station where he demonstrated how the innovations of technology like robotic tractors (which have the ability to plow straighter lines) and GPS units have shaped modern-day farming.

“The technology station was my favorite,” Samuel Murie, 11, said, “because when I grow up I want to be a mechanical engineer. I love robots.”

“When I was holding the GPS I was like, whoa! I’m linked to four satellites; one for north, one for east, one for south and one for west. It’s very interesting,” Alec Benedict, 11, said. “I learned today that farming is my alter-ego. I think I’ll make a garden, just like dig one out.”


The soil station, led by Hurricane High students, demonstrated how much farmable land is actually available by using an apple to represent the earth and cutting it down to show just how much of the earth is actually farmable. Then students looked at particles of silt, sand and clay to see how the different size of particles vary.

Students learn about farmable land and the size of silt, sand and clay particles at the Hurricane Valley School and Community Garden, Hurricane, Utah, May 8, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“Looking at the different sized particles of sand was really cool,” said Kaycee Shomaker, who will turn 11 in July. “I didn’t know how little the particles actually were. Clay is the smallest particle. I believe that more farming can help nature.”

After the end of the event, students received yellow community garden t-shirts and homemade ice cream with garden-fresh strawberries on top.

“This community garden has become better than I had hoped because of the great people involved networking,” Dayley said. “I hope it becomes sustainable and people learn from it. I don’t care that it gets bigger, but rather that it continues to provide opportunities for students.”

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