Beyond the Books: Garden club helps Kenwood Elementary students grow

Victoria Fernandez (center) shows members of Kenwood Leadership Academy's Garden Club how to plant onions.

More than 90 percent of Iowa's land is devoted to farming.

Given the state's success as an agriculture exporter, clearly those manning the lands are doing something right.

One extracurricular opportunity at Kenwood Leadership Academy is ensuring -- at least on a small scale -- students at the school are exposed to the art of cultivating.

Victoria Fernandez coordinates the Kenwood Garden Club, a program geared toward teaching kids the tricks and trade of growing a variety of crops and plants.

The club, in its third year, began as a way to build bonds at the school.

"Gardening was -- you know -- you didn't have to have a whole lot of skill," said Fernandez, a master gardener who leads the program on a volunteer basis. "Maybe you could just, you could come and dig or you could weed or you could plant. You could get as complicated or as simple, so it was just a way for bringing people together."

Fernandez started the club when her daughter attended Kenwood.

While her child has moved on from the school, Fernandez said she's still committed to the kiddos and giving them the oft-outdoor learning option.

"I set it up with the intention of staying," said Fernandez, who hosts an hour-long garden gathering every Tuesday for the students during the school year. "In the wintertime, we're planning or we're doing crafts or we're upcycling stuff, and then in the summertime, in the spring, that's when we can be out."

Fernandez uses her expertise to help the kids grow as gardeners, but said she's also seen growth in them as young people.

The club provides students with the skills to run a garden, and also affords educational opportunities.

"We studied Native American culture and we planted the beans, the corn, and the squash," said Fernandez. "It's more of a demonstration. That isn't necessarily for harvesting, but just to see what happens when they all work together. These are three crops that Native Americans used to plant and they all benefited each other in a certain way."

During the summer, Fernandez is encouraging Kenwood families to sign up for their Adopt-The-Garden program, where parents and kids can claim the vegetation that grows, so long as they water and weed the garden.

Like the crops, the program is growing, with more space for planting and more emphasis on implementing gardening into learning.

"Getting benches built so we can have an outdoor program, incorporating it into the curriculum with the teachers," said Fernandez. "If there's a part of the curriculum that pertains, then the kids can come out and sit and look at it with their own eyes."

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