One hundred years ago, George Washington Carver wrote, "The thoughtful educator...understands that the most effective and lasting education is the one that makes the pupil handle, discuss and familiarize himself with the real things about him" (Nature Study and Gardening for Rural Schools, 1910). This educational philosophy of learning by doing will be embodied in the Beltsville Area's newest volunteer effort to reach out to local students. The Student Discovery Garden, currently up and flourishing at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, is a project of the Beltsville Area Diversity Taskforce (BADT).
Spearheaded by BADT's Science, Technology, Education, and Outreach (STEO) subcommittee, planning for the garden began in the fall of 2009. "We are following First Lady Michelle Obama's effort to have a garden as a teaching tool for urban kids," said Lewis Ziska of STEO. Amidst the large, internationally renowned research facility that BARC is, it is refreshing to find a traditional, old-fashioned garden plot.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is a strong proponent of gardening. In his July 2009 message to USDA employees, available at http://www.usda.gov/Peoplesgarden, Secretary Vilsack challenged USDA employees to build more People's Gardens. He wrote that these gardens will "allow young people in particular to understand how hard it is to produce food and how much fun it is to produce food. And we believed that as these local production opportunities were created young people in particular would not only learn the lessons of hard work, but more importantly would be encouraged to be more nutritious eaters."
The Student Discovery Garden at BARC is composed of seven sections, each exhibiting a different aspect of BARC research, from the breeding of native crops, to urban garden containers. Each section features a poster providing relevant educational information. A sidewalk three feet wide permits easy access for close viewing of exhibits.
Friends of Agricultural Research-Beltsville (FAR-B) made a generous donation of $3,000 to purchase lumber for constructing the planting beds. BARC's Farm Crew have been integral to the construction process and many BADT members have worked hard on this project. Since any garden needs ongoing maintenance to remain in good shape, volunteers have worked hard. These volunteers include staff at BARC and the community. Students at all levels have been actively involved in maintaining the garden and for visiting for hand-on educational experiences.
The Student Discovery Garden is pesticide- and herbicide-free. Planting beds are filled with sterilized soil, as a protective measure for the middle-school students who are expected to be the predominant age group served by this teaching tool.
Teachers are invited to schedule school groups to visit to the Student Discovery Garden, for more information contact the Beltsville Area Diversity Taskforce at: BARC.Diversity@ars.usda.gov
Ann Simpkins - Beltsville Area Diversity Taskforce, Science, Technology, Education, and Outreach Subcommitte
Photos by Jim Plaskowitz - Beltsville Area Information Technology Section