By Lisa Brown
Rolesville High School agricultural teacher Daniel Beasley provides a broad curriculum in agriculture to interested students. Some students come from farming families, while others are new to the concept.
Beasley’s goal is not just to provide students with the idea and perhaps excitement of commercial farming – something the teacher considers a “great industry, but with lots of risk” – but also to introduce backyard farming and the idea of sustainability.
“This is a new trend in gardening,” he said.
Wake County Public Schools has responded to the concept of edible school gardens, and research backs up the benefits. Having a garden at a school has shown to increase science achievement scores, have a positive impact on behavior, increase interest in eating healthy foods, expand knowledge of the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables and improve social and life skills.
Jodi Riedel, agricultural teacher at Wakefield High School, is also passionate about sharing her love of horticulture with her students. Along with Agriculture, she teaches Family Consumer Sciences. Classes stress the science behind food, and the curriculum includes fermentation, canning, food safety and changing chemistry to produce higher yields.
Riedel has operated an edible garden at Wakefield High School for 14 years and is seeing great success with students in learning gardening skills and also performing service work. Crops are donated to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS); last year, students donated 1,500 pounds to the organization.
Beasley has submitted paperwork to start a garden at RHS and is awaiting approval from the school board.
Each school operates a greenhouse, and each will have plant sales starting in April. Proceeds go to their Future Farmers of America (FFA) groups. These plant sales will have everything from vegetables to perennials to annuals. At RHS, the FFA works with the Garden Club (advised by the Rolesville Garden Club), and the two groups raise enough money to keep the venture alive.
“My goal is to break even. You can’t put a price on everything the students learn in the process,” Beasley said.
Along with gardening, Beasley also has rabbits on-site that could be used as “meat bunnies.” Beasley is sensitive to the students and any beliefs that may contradict using the rabbits to produce meat, so the rabbits have not yet been used to produce offspring for food.
“Even if we decide we can’t do that, they are great in the garden because they help fertilize,” he said.
In terms of sustainability, the offspring of one male and one female rabbit pair can produce up to 150 pounds of meat in a year, providing a family with good protein at a very low cost.
Riedel’s garden produces tomatoes and cucumbers not only to donate but also to sell during the summer months. On days designated “Tomato Tuesdays and Thursdays,” students will operate an on-site market from 8 to 11 a.m. for consumers to purchase or, if they prefer, to pick vegetables. What is not sold will be donated. Riedel refers to her garden as a “hidden gem” and hopes to see more of the community becoming aware of and making use of the market.
Another important part of the Agricultural program is providing the opportunity for students to learn about being licensed in pesticide treatment, an important piece of farming. Beasley hopes that students will take any classes that will provide them with certifications.
“Certifications make you more valuable,” Beasley said, “especially in this job market.”
Both teachers hope to see a future where more students explore the possibility of gardening not just as careers but also for their own needs.
“I really want my students to understand true sustainability and not have to rely on others for food,” Beasley said. “They can learn to produce fresh foods on a low budget and take care of themselves.”
For more information about edible gardens in Wake County Public Schools, go to:
For more information about FFA in both schools, go to:
www.facebook.com/RolesvilleFFA and www.twitter.com/RolesvilleFFA