Garden Plot Becomes Outdoor Science Lab
A garden plot, a greenhouse and a mess of new potatoes are satisfying appetites and more at a Fort Payne agriscience class. Dan Groghan, agriscience teacher, is using the time-tested concepts of gardening to help his students understand science through planting, observing and harvesting vegetables.
Three years ago, Groghan was approved to till a 2,025-foot plot of ground behind the football field as a 7th-grade science teacher at Fort Payne Middle School. His reason for such a request was to create an outdoor plant science teaching laboratory. Irish potatoes were the plants to study because everybody likes them and their growth cycle would fit into the semester system.
The following school year, Groghan transferred to Fort Payne High School. There he inherited a greenhouse and an older group of students who would benefit from exposure to this type of hands-on learning experience.
In his class, all students work together to plant, maintain and harvest the crops. For the fall crops, students planted collard greens and then potatoes for the spring crop. Collards and potatoes were chosen because their growth cycle could begin and end within the semester.
DeKalb Farmers Co-op store in Rainsville helped him with seeds for planting in the garden plot and the greenhouse.
In the fall, the turnip green harvest was so successful Groghan and his students were looking for people to take the leafy green vegetables home so they would not go to waste. Many students did not take them home and the reason was they had never tasted them.
"I brought several Crock-Pots to school one day and we cooked several different recipes of collards," Groghan said. "We had the students taste the collards and for many it was their first time to taste them."
Almost all the students, surprisingly, decided they did enjoy the taste of the collards. He hopes to try versions of potato soup at the end of the potato harvest in the spring to further develop students’ taste for fresh foods.
"Home gardens don’t exist as much anymore, so the kids are fascinated with the growth process," Groghan explained. "Each time we go out to the garden, the kids are still interested in what the plants are doing."
But still, there was the issue of quality food going to waste. Groghan had two solutions for his problem. Since his students were the caretakers of this garden, he decided to let them make the decision. The options were to sell the food or donate it to a local food bank. Unanimously, the local food bank won out.
In another one of Groghan’s classes, students work in the greenhouse. Once it was cleaned up and organized, another classroom lab opportunity evolved.
Zac McCurdy is an 11th grader in Groghan’s class who has become more interested in the growth of food since participating in the greenhouse lab work.
"It’s good to learn about the food we eat and it’s satisfying to see it grow," McCurdy said. "It’s good for us (students) to help our community by providing food to the local food shelters."
Angelica Santiago, another student is a 10th grader who enjoys taking care of the hanging baskets of annuals in the greenhouse.
"I love this class," Santiago said. "I thought it was going to be boring to begin with, but now I am always wondering where foods come from when we go to the grocery store."
Her mom grows vegetables at home, but she didn’t become interested in them until this class.
The academic goal of this class is for an outdoor lab experience, but further lessons are being taught: community, charity, food production and hard work. Through projects in the greenhouse, in raised beds and a garden plot, Groghan is taking learning to a different level.
Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.