A growing experience
Students harvest life lessons along with veggies, herbs and fruits
When the pandemic closed down schools, Gemini Elementary School third grader Copeland Watters was bereft, not so much about missing in-person classes and catching up with friends, but about not being able to enjoy the school garden.
“The children come home and all they want to talk about is the garden,” her mom, Logan Watters, said.
Copeland, along with most of the Gemini student body, is thrilled that life in the garden has resumed, and it’s not just the kids that love the little garden. The Melbourne Beach community has embraced it. Although it is situated in the front of the school, no pilfering or vandalism has transpired and anyone suspected of nefarious activity is promptly referred by neighbors to the police.
Where tomatoes, passion fruit, herbs, cucumbers, nasturtiums and more now thrive was not long ago a sandy stretch of grass and weeds. The transformation was prompted by Rebecca Gloddy and her son, Luke. Gloddy works for an Orlando company that deals in gardening supplies, so it is understandable that Luke has been gardening since he was 4 years old. When he entered kindergarten at Gemini, his mom wanted him to continue the gardening experience and enlisted the help of fellow Gemini mom Carly Sinigoi and a few more volunteers.
At first, the garden grew modestly in two abandoned 4-by-6 planting boxes, which produced a remarkable crop.
“We had the most amazing vegetables,” Gloddy said, still marveling at the 14-plus-pound cabbage the students harvested.
The kids were hooked.
“They became little gardeners,” Gloddy said.
In 2020, just two years after planting in the boxes, the garden moved to its larger quarters at the front of the school.
“We ran with it,” Sinigoi said.
Love, lots of sweat and inventive fundraising has kept the garden growing.
“We sold plants, seedlings, terrariums and everyone knew that every penny was going to the garden,” Gloddy said. “There is no money for the garden otherwise.”
Volunteers, mostly seniors from the community, help Gloddy and Sinigoi and the children.
“It’s cute to see the generations working together,” Sinigoi said.
To make it easier on everyone’s back, Gloddy and Sinigoi plant on feeding troughs that should last for several generations of students. Green Thumb Thursdays is a very popular day at Gemini for one reason.
“The whole school gets to garden,” Sinigoi said.
For some kids, the experience is unique.
“A fifth grade girl told me she had never watered a plant before,” Sinogoi said.
To Gemini Principal Christina Carver, the garden is more than just an exercise in planting.
“The garden is a work of art and represents our message of ‘growing gardens, growing minds,’ ” she said.
It is much more than a place where kids can get in touch with nature. It also serves as a starting point for activities that encourage literacy and science skills development. Students read garden-related books around the plantings. They learn about the lifecycle of butterflies and how insects like ladybugs help. Just before spring break, the children enjoyed the fruits of the garden in the form of a huge salad with homemade ranch dressing and croutons.
One student noted how wonderful it was “the way the flowers grow like us.”
It awakens a sense of wonder that should serve the students well for years to come.
“It is so beautiful to stand in the garden and breathe in and out it,” said one of the students.
The Gemini garden provides students with food, wonder, peace, friendship and sense of community. That is one huge yield.
“The garden means a lot to me,” wrote a third grader for an assignment. “It always makes me happy.”