By Denise Dick
Sunflowers stretched more than 6 feet high in the little patch of garden tended by Taft Elementary School’s 4-H Club.
Fourth- through sixth- graders formed the club, the first 4-H club in the city school district, last year and planted the first crop last spring. The club is called Taft Grows Green.
Through the summer, Laurie McEwan, teacher and club adviser, and the students watered, weeded and cared for the garden.
“We had tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, cucumbers, parsley, onions,” McEwan said.
Strawberries, watermelon, carrots and hot peppers also added to the summer yield. The students later planted gourds and the sunflowers that were harvested this week.
“We’re going to take the seeds out and Ms. McEwan is going to take them home and bake them, and then we’re going to sell them to raise money for the club,” explained fifth- grader Ja’Mya Jackson, 11.
She and her twin sister, Ja’Liya, are both members.
McEwan took members to the Canfield Fair where they assembled a display.
“We got a blue ribbon,” the teacher said.
The garden effort involves the city and school, Mahoning County’s Ohio State University Extension Office, the Taft School Area Block Watch and the 7th Ward Citizens Coalition.
Christian Moore, a senior at South Range High School, worked with the club for his senior project with help from Jason Bake of the county’s OSU extension office. They collected soil samples to make sure the plot, located across from the school, was suitable for gardening, laid out the beds and picked the plants.
“I really enjoyed working with the kids,” he said. “Some of them had never eaten a fresh tomato before.”
He hopes other South Range students select the garden as their senior project next year and that it becomes an continuing effort.
Fifth-graders A’Lexis Williams, 11, and Mark Revere and Liara Hopkins, both 10, are also club members.
Mark joined last year while a student at Taft and decided to stay involved this year even though he attends the Discovery Program at Kirkmere.
“It’s a fun program,” he said.
Liara joined this year because she thought it sounded like a good program in which to get involved.
McEwan said people in the surrounding neighborhood have supported the garden. One neighbor wrote a letter to her asking how they grew such beautiful sunflowers. Others stopped to help in the summer.
She believes it offers a valuable learning experience for students.
“Some of the students didn’t know that carrots grew under ground,” she said. “Seeing that carrot coming out of the ground is probably something that will stick with them more than anything they learn from a standardized test.”