For the children of Manning Early Childhood Center’s first-grade classes, May 17 was the culmination of a year-long exercise.
That was the day the students finally got to harvest the vegetables they had planted in their garden behind the school earlier in the year.
Enterprise Learning Coach Kelli Bellant said that grants awarded to the school from vendors like Apple, Target, Lowe’s and Farm-to-School totaled more than $15,000 and allowed for the building and cultivation of raised garden beds, utilizing produce for their wellness program.
Students grew tomatoes, herbs, radishes, flowers, spices and other items in accordance with the school’s wellness program, which the school operates year-round.
“I am a 220 day employee, so I will be here at the school to tend to the gardens during the week,” said Bellant of the summer care of the garden. “Over the summer, we invite parents to the school, to harvest the crop and to take home the harvested fruit and vegetables for their kids.”
Bellant said that the wellness program promotes year-round healthy eating habits and wellness education to MECC students. Through its partnership with organizations such as Clemson and the Future Farmers of America, the program affords kids opportunities to experience tasting experiments with the harvested fruits and vegetables.
“Bonnie Plants of Manning has donated all the plants for the school’s raised garden beds,” Bellant said. “We have 17 raised beds and nine indoor hydroponic garden beds. And they contain assorted fruits and vegetables for the students to eat.”
“We have planted a fall garden followed by a spring garden that runs throughout the summer.”
Manning High School’s FFA students constructed the garden beds. The structural, raised garden beds help school gardening programs to thrive. The materials were purchased with the grants awarded to the wellness program, Bellant said. The plants themselves were donated by Bonnie Plants, along with grants from the Medical University of South Carolina and Boeing.
“I had to think of a way to fund the garden program, so after applying for the grants that we were accepted for, the next venture was to find a way to build the garden beds,” Bellant said. “After purchasing all the materials with our grant money, we partnered with Future Farmers of America, and they built the beds and brought them to the school. They came over and filled the beds with soil then our students took over.”
Bellant said that the Master Gardeners of Clarendon County and Marie Land have been a big help. Clemson Extension has helped but the kids are the ones who maintain the gardens.
“We have recently received another grant from Lowe’s for $4,000 to replace our shed that was damaged during the floods,” she said. “Target has funded us to go to Adventure in Columbia at which our students will take advantage of their Farm-to-Table program.
“Farming is a big part of our community and our hope is that the students will take gardening home with them,” Bellant said. “We want students to use their produce as an extra source of food but moreover to use the program as a tool to learn about nutrition.”
Land said she took some of the produce home, washed them and prepared a salad, a strawberry cake and a tea for the children.
“Some of them ate radishes, but some of them didn’t really like them,” she said.