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Center Grove students partner with local nonprofit fighting food insecurity in Johnson County

Farm Manager Kent Grose teaches students how to plant popcorn seeds
Walnut Grove first graders got to go outside to learn
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 09:15:20-04

BARGERSVILLE — In the first grade, there is really nothing better than pajama day or your teacher taking your class outside for part of the school day.

WRTV stopped by Walnut Grove Elementary School in Bargersville on a day when first graders got to do both.

Stephanie Dodson's first grade class gathered around a plot of plowed dirt with eager faces and a lot of energy.

Farm Manager Kent Grose gathered their attention by holding up corn and dirt as he taught the class how to plant popcorn seeds.

"There's water in the popcorn seeds and they pop and they need sunlight a lot," student Olivia Nicholas said. "So you dig a hole and then you put two seeds in all of them and then you like bury them with the dirt."

Her classmate Mark Bohnert also paid attention to the outdoor science lesson,

"They need soil, water, maybe some sunlight, eventually," Bohnert said, as he jumped back in line to help his friends dig holes and plant their seeds.

The whole learning project is put on by a newer, local nonprofit called The Well Watered Gardens of Johnson County.

This is their second year working with students at Walnut Grove. Last year they planted tomatoes, but this year it is all about popcorn.

Marcia Duke is the organization's founder and visionary and she approached the district with her idea for this outdoor learning lab, which she plans to expand in the coming years.

"The kids can come out and pick the popcorn in the fall," Duke said. "Put it in a brown paper bag and take it home and microwave it. So it's like they see it. They planted it. They take it home. They consume it."

She shows students maps of the United States to tie in social studies learning, and explains what types of farming practices and crops Native Americans grew on this land here in the Hoosier state, and how we can still use those methods of gardening and farming today.

But the mission behind The Well Watered Gardens of Johnson County digs much deeper.

"The mission of The Well Watered Gardens of Johnson County is to help alleviate hunger in Johnson County," Duke said. "We started with two gardens last year and we are up to 8 this year."

Those gardens can be found here at Walnut Grove as well as other local churches, neighborhoods and schools and Duke said they plan to keep expanding.

Fresh food and produce at their community gardens can help empower communities with a limited access to affordable, fresh food and provide goods to local food pantries that serve our neighbors in need.

She said they collect data on where food deserts are located in the county and go into those neighborhoods to do prayer walks, sharing their love of God and gardening, while getting to the root of any problems.

It is part of the national mission, The Well Watered Gardens, whose founder set a goal of more than 1 million gardens in 10 years.

Here in Center Grove Schools, many of the students live in subdivisions that are popping up all over the growing community. Some of those communities don't allow gardens.

This space at Walnut Grove utilizes the acreage at the district's youngest elementary school for learning and growing. Students not only get exposed to something new, like gardening, but they also get a taste of the school district's past, which is rooted in agriculture.

"The world is a classroom and there's so much we can learn by getting outside and just observing and getting our hands dirty," teacher Stephanie Dodson said.

She says what they are doing out here today touches so many parts of their curriculum in the classroom.

"Right now they are measuring, two inches down or three inches down, and two seeds in there," she said.

And Walnut Grove Principal Brian Proctor saidthis is a great partnership for the school and a unique opportunity for their students to learn and grow.

"Understanding the real life, putting the book into actual application, and seeing things actually grow," says Proctor. "We always say that all space is learning space, so we want to make sure that kids can get dirty and do the things that are fun."

If you are interested in learning more about WWG of Johnson County, you can follow them on Facebook.