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Thriving Osborne Elementary garden program teaches students, involves community

| Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Osborne Elementary second-grader Gianna Zickgraf (left) chats with kindergartner Sophia Tomey as they remove seeds from the head of a sunflower during gARTen Club at the school on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Osborne Elementary fifth-grader Will Campbell shovels mulch as classmates looks on during gARTen Club at the school on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Osborne Elementary second-graders Lily Sinclair (left) and Saina Horne talk as they remove seeds from the head of a sunflower during gARTen Club at the school on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014.

Sure, pizza can be purchased in a grocery store. But when an Osborne Elementary School student told the principal he hadn't a clue where pizza and its ingredients originate, she said it was time to act.

“That moment when the pizza came from the grocery store, it was like, ‘Ugh, we've got some work to do,'” Osborne Elementary School Principal Barb Mellett said.

Thus, the Osborne garden and gARTen Club — which combines both gardening and art — was born.

“That was an ‘a-ha' moment for me that we had better start doing something about getting kids to better understand nutrition and food and sustainability,” Mellet said. “We had a whole group of children who didn't understand.

What started as a butterfly garden blossomed into a space to grow crops and flowers and allow for creative design — with children, parents, school staff and community members helping.

Now, more than five years later, Osborne's gARTen Club boasts an enrollment of more than 90 children, ranging from first- through fifth-graders, and offers yearlong after-school programming and activities focused on educating students about where their food comes from.

Part of the project includes a family dinner event planned for Nov. 14, during which pizza — using items from the garden — will be served.

Art teacher Lynn Sopp has led the artistic portion of the garden, Mellett said.

For parent Amy Markel, the garden is a chance to use her gardening knowledge to help children understand food.

“It's really important because of the fresh idea,” said Markel, vice president of Osborne's Home & School Association. “A lot of the kids have opportunities to do that, but a lot of them don't.”

With parent volunteers and some Osborne teachers, students tend to the garden weekly when the weather cooperates. They pick weeds, sort vegetables, water crops and plant.

On a recent Monday afternoon, a group of students sorted vegetables and placed discarded pieces of plants into a compost pile.

Inside the school, other students designed fairy houses for the garden and created what would become artwork for park benches. A smaller group of children cut and sorted vegetables that had been picked from the garden.

As part of the enrichment activity, students taste foods from the garden. They sampled potato chips last month that were cut from potatoes grown in the garden. They tasted kale chips and soups.

“We're trying to teach them about where food comes from,” Markel said. “Sometimes, it's things they've never tried.”

Snacks are the coolest part of the experience for Gordon Merriman, the fifth-grader said.

“It's been great learning about all of the different stuff like the different kinds of plants and about what stuff are fruits and what stuff are vegetables,” said Gordon, who has been in the club for three years. “Like a cucumber, it's actually a fruit.”

Mellett said the project has been a labor of love.

“I grew up gardening,” she said. “I remember going to my grandfather's garden and picking his tomatoes and red peppers.

“This has taken several years to get to this point. It takes money, and it takes time, and it takes people who are passionate about it, and it takes a nice core group of parents who are willing to help.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-324-1408 or

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