Despite the hard work of weeding and watering, Meridianville Middle School (MMS) students can’t wait to get their hands dirty each day. Their garden is part of Fostering Environmental and Agricultural Scientists for Tomorrow (FEAST), a project that educates students about science in agriculture. It was designed by MMS teacher Shannon Moore and Alabama A&M University’s Dr. Ernst Cebert and Dr. Lloyd Walker.
“In my 15 years of teaching, every time I’ve brought kids outside to participate in any type of plant study, it increased student engagement,” Moore said.
This year's main crop for the students was strawberries grown in raised beds they built themselves with a $10,000 donation from Madison County Commissioner Roger Jones.
“It was way harder than we thought it was going to be,” said student Cullen Mills.
The students conducted trials comparing yields of strawberries grown on black plastic with those grown on wheat straw mulch and no mulch or plastic. As a result of the study, students found strawberries grown on black plastic produced higher yields.
Noel Brown, a local farmer, donated a strawberry plant for each student. Moore said the students learned why large-scale farmers utilize black plastic for crops.
“The strawberries that didn’t have the black plastic had so many weeds choking out the strawberry plants that they didn’t produce many strawberries at all,” said student Peyton Corn.
Payton Bell, another student participating in Moore’s outdoor classroom, said she now has a stronger connection to food.
“Now that we know how difficult it is to keep up with all the weeding and watering, we have more appreciation for the food we eat,” she said.
The students said they hope future classes will enjoy learning in the outdoor classroom.
“We’re starting to learn how to give back to the people younger than us,” Camryn Bassler said.
Moore’s class also grows vegetables and is in the process of planting over 70 species of trees around their school’s campus to be used to teach tree identification to future students. The trees were purchased with a $25,000 grant from Monsanto’s America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Fund.
Moore said she's hopeful FEAST and its outdoor classroom will be replicated by other educators. For more about FEAST, follow the class Twitter page @theSOILclass.