Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 22, 2017

Agapeland preschool harvests veggies, happiness

Photo by: NICOLE HESTER-WILLIAMS Six-year-old, Valerie Hernandez smiles as she wrapped her arms around her find: a mini-watermelon she picked Monday afternoon from Agapeland’s straw-bale vegetable garden.

The general consensus of the Agapeland Preschool and Childcare Center pupils isn’t too difficult to figure out when it comes to gardening: “it makes you happy,” they echoed one right after another — in fact, some even think gardening “makes you smart.”

Agapeland’s vegetable garden, which is situated on its property at the Fairfield Foursquare Church along Highway 1 south, was planted and is maintained by its students, teachers and Jan Swinton, the local food system coordinator for Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development in Fairfield.

Swinton’s project under Pathfinders, Hometown Harvest of Southeast Iowa, is part of a larger network of Regional Food Systems Working Groups throughout Iowa.

Agapeland’s first attempt at planting a traditional vegetable garden was unsuccessful.

“We planted a garden in the same spot two years ago,” Swinton said. “The soil was lousy, and the kids walked all over the plants.”

Swinton teamed-up with the Jefferson County Master Gardeners, and she learned the art of straw-bale gardening. She introduced the technique to the school.

“We got the plants up off the ground so that the kids can tell the difference between a weed and a plant,” she said. “It’s really adorable, and the kids don’t walk on it now.”

The children have assisted with the garden from beginning to end. At harvest times, they excitedly dash out to it, reaping cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and other fruits and vegetables.

“It gives them an opportunity to have more hands-on learning,” said Agapeland Prekindergarten Teacher Beth Cecil. “Having fresh fruits and vegetables is so important.”

On Monday, 6-year-old Valerie Hernandez located, picked and earned the coveted prize of a ripe mini-watermelon.

“The kids get to take home whatever they pick,” Cecil said. “I love it; you just have to water it more than a regular garden though.”

Swinton explained that straw-bale gardening typically requires more water than traditional gardens do, as its root systems are inside the bales of straw above the ground. This planting style causes water to evaporate faster.

“It’s going really well,” Swinton said. “I’m glad they’re feeling happy”

Agapeland’s straw-bale garden will be one of four gardens featured during the Urban Gardening Tour, which will run from noon to 5 p.m. on Sept. 14.

Swinton said she’ll soon spearhead another garden at the Community Childcare Center in Fairfield.


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