Kindergarteners at Enos Garcia Elementary School got a hands-on lesson in gardening Tuesday (Sept. 28), with the help of local farming teachers. Students spent the morning seeing, smelling and tasting local crops in the school’s educational garden.

“We like to have the garden support the curriculum of the teachers. One of the things that students learn about is the life cycle of plants and animals,” said Nikki Cain, educational director for Growing Community Now. “The garden is such a terrific place for that – to have that real-life, hands-on exposure.”

The students are taking part in a seed-saving project with blue corn seeds, and a seed regeneration project with red bean seeds that come from Taos Pueblo. “The Taos red bean got down to like 25 pounds of seed, which isn’t much,” said Cain. “And so, for several years now, we’ve been growing the beans.”

Cain led the students through an experiential learning lesson, where red bean pods were handed out and kids broke them open to discover the beans inside.

“Was it cold last night? This morning?” asked Cain. “The plants are feeling that too. They’re starting to turn colors, and they’re really working hard to finish up making their seeds before the end of their growing season.”

“You remember what’s inside the seed?” asked Cain again. “There’s a little plant in there waiting to grow.”

Connie White, a volunteer with the group, asked the students, “What does your bean feel like? Is it rough? Is it smooth?”

Growing Community Now is a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate school gardens, and gardening and nutritional education in Taos. A member of the umbrella group Agricultural Implementation Research & Education (AIRE), it was founded by Micah Roseberry eight years ago.

“Part of the mission of this is also to bring farm food to the school lunch table,” said Cain. “Getting the kids out in the garden – they recognize the food, taste the food – they see the food on the plate and it’s gonna get eaten.”

Growing Community Now works with Arroyos Del Norte Elementary School, Ranchos Elementary School and Taos Middle School. It also created a high tunnel greenhouse at Taos High School, and is developing a pathway for students to earn credits towards an agricultural degree.

And before the COVID-19 pandemic hit (in March of 2020), Growing Community Now produced a harvest festival with Taos Charter School.

Enos Garcia Elementary School is growing potatoes, carrots, kale, tomatoes, red beans, corn, garlic and gladiolas in its outdoor garden. The school also has a growing dome, which can allow for winter harvests. “That also expands the teacher’s classroom space,” said Cain.

After the red beans and the empty pods were collected, the kindergarteners picked and ate cherry tomatoes, and cut gladiolas from the garden to bring back into the classroom.

Growing Community Now is funded by a United States Department of Agriculture Farm to School grant, and by local nonprofits including LOR Foundation, Taos Community Foundation and Los Alamos National Laboratories. It also accepts funds from private donors.

White said the best thing about the group’s work with kids is the joy of being outside with them. “To see how things are growing, what’s under the earth,” she said.

“The main thing is hands-on learning. You’re out there digging. You’re seeing something grow. You’re experiencing teamwork. You’re learning new tools,” said White. “You’re experiencing life.”

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