A student smiles while harvesting the food she and her classmates then sold to their teachers last Monday at Francis Lettsome Primary School. (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Stooping over a small garden bed behind Francis Lettsome Primary School, Nea Talbot, Green VI garden coordinator, showed grade six students how to properly dislodge radishes from the dirt without harming the vegetable.

The students then followed as she moved to the neighbouring patch of lemongrass, which they harvested next.

With the green strands bunched into neat bundles, one of the students ran over to his friends and held the plants to their nose, instructing them to take a whiff.

“Smell this! Isn’t it good?” he asked.

Green VI has helped sprout similar garden programmes at four other schools in the Virgin Islands — Ebenezer Thomas, Leonora Deville, Joyce Samuel and Bregado Flax Educational Centre primary — but Ms. Talbot’s operation at Francis Lettsome, which began in August 2018 with the help of Harneys as a corporate sponsor, is the most extensive.

The gardens at the four other schools are smaller, with the children simply growing their wares and eating them.

But at Francis Lettsome, students learn how to harvest their goods and how to sell them. After the harvest each week, students set up a makeshift market, where faculty members can buy the fresh fruits and vegetables, with students collectively deciding on how to invest the money earned back into the garden.

“One of the objectives of the programme is life skills,” Ms. Talbot said.

Harvest

Every Monday at Francis Lettsome, the harvest begins right after the morning assembly, with students gathering under a pergola partially shaded by passionfruit trees as Ms. Talbot explains the day’s lesson and assigns tasks.

Soon, they set off. Unearthing a sprig of dill last Monday, Ms. Talbot asked the students crowding around her what was notable about the herb.

“It’s beautiful,” a student offered.

Ms. Talbot laughed, then demonstrated how on her farm (Full Belly Farm in Sage Mountain) she likes to pepper the ground with seeds from the dill as “it is a really beautiful plant , and it gets lots of leaves.”

With the harvest nearly complete, Ms. Talbot again divided the students into teams to complete tasks as they prepared to assemble the market.

Student Destiny Norris, who carefully poured water onto the patches of crops, said she enjoys the class because she likes being outside and likes Ms. Talbot.

Corn and pineapple have been her favourite crops to grow, “because I love corn and I love pineapple,” she said.

Following the harvest, the class congregated in the school’s office to set up the market.

One team was dispatched to draw signs advertising their wares, while another helped arrange the food into a neat row.

The goal of the market is to help ensure that what the students learn in the garden is applicable to the classroom, and vice-versa, Ms. Talbot said.

“Ideally it would be a really consistent interaction and integration … between the classroom and the garden, and that the teachers feel comfortable getting out in this space,” she explained.

Ms. Talbot has worked to foster a relationship with the students’ teachers, and also keeps them informed about their students’ work in the garden.

Eventually, she would like to help behind the scenes while the teachers take over garden instruction, she said.

However, she understands that given how much teachers are already responsible for, it could be daunting for them to take on this additional role, she said.

But most important for Ms. Talbot is making sure the territory’s youth care about the environment, she added.

One of the most memorable moments from her almost two years teaching in the garden was when she realised that a student who was formerly afraid of bugs wandered away from where she was giving a lesson to watch a pair of insects roll around in the soil.

“And that was such a big leap to go from freaking out when he sees them … to actually observing them and watching their behaviour and understanding that they’re not harmful,” she said.


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