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School gardens

06/07/04 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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(Host) Memorial Day weekend is the traditional date in the northeast for planting your seeds and commentator Charlie Nardozzi says that lots of folks are hard at work in the garden.

(Nardozzi) Spring is bursting forth all over and home gardeners everywhere are planting their vegetables, herbs, and flowers. There is another group of gardeners also springing into action. In schoolyards across the country, teachers, parents, and volunteers are working with kids to grow school gardens. These gardens aren't just a simple container of lettuce or a raised bed with zinnias. Some of these gardens include school-wide ecological habitats that are integrated into the curriculum at every grade level. Also, there are hunger gardens where kids grow food for their own school and donate extras to the local food shelf.

What is obvious to teachers and parents alike is that gardens are a great source of learning. Kids often embrace academic subjects they normally would shun when teachers use the garden as a tool. Math skills are taught as kids calculate how many plants will fit in a garden bed. Teachers grow exotic foods such as cotton or peanuts to make social studies and history come alive. Kids learn that fresh peas, carrots, and beans taste great. By learning to love fresh vegetables, schools are teaching kids right eating habits that can help fight the growing problem of obesity among young people. Some schools are growing enough food to even supplement their lunch program.

While teachers and parents scrape together the resources to support these beneficial kids gardening programs, unlikely partners are coming to the forefront.

The Hilton Garden Inn is a hotel chain in the Hilton Corporation. Although the name was mostly created for marketing reasons, one Vice President took it seriously. Mark Nogal is a gardener himself and knows the joys of gardening firsthand. Mark thought it was a good idea the Hilton Garden Inn should really be about gardening. He thought each Inn should be an integral part of the community where they're located. As a way to do this Mark decided each hotel would partner with a local school to start a school garden program.

The local Hilton Garden Inn provides either an indoor or outdoor gardening package consisting of seeds, tools, products, activities, and curriculum. Plus, after donating the package to the school, the employees at each hotel volunteer at the local school to help the teacher build, plant, and maintain the gardens.

So far half of the 200 Hilton Garden Inns across the country have a school garden partnership program. Some schools such as the Raritan Middle School in New Jersey have become so successful that Rutgers University, the local Master Gardeners club and a local newspaper have teamed up to create a new garden for 60 special education students at the school.

In this day and age where names and slogans are thrown around for their sales potential or shock factor, it's refreshing to see one company believing that there is a meaning to their name that's more than a marketing pitch.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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