The kids of South Side School’s Educare program were skeptical: How could a tiny seed turn into food?
Answering that question, and encouraging kids to eat well, have been the aim of a garden project sponsored by the Jonesborough Farmers Market with funding from a HEAL Appalachia grant.
Educare teacher Jody Skole, along with farmers market volunteers Karen Childress and Jeff Stratton, started working with the kids in February.
Before the ground was warm enough to work, they took seeds and placed them in water-filled ice trays. The trays were set on heating pads, and the children watched as the seeds germinated. The tiny sprouts were then planted in individual peat pots to await warm weather.
“They couldn’t understand how the seeds would grow into plants. No way,” Jeff said. “I told them inside the seed there is all the stuff that makes this happen.”
At that point, the kids had to take it on faith.
In February, Jeff, who owns Chapo’s Chile Patch and sells at the market, began working on the soil when the temperature suddenly warmed to 65 degrees.
“You have to start with the basics,” he said. “If the soil is no good, nothing will grow. There’s a difference between dirt and soil. Soil is something you create; it’s a living thing.”
First they put down leaf mulch and covered it with plastic to speed decomposition. Next came the worms. Yes, worms.
Another market vendor. Felicia McKee of Midway Fields Micro Greens also sells worm bins. She donated one for the project.
“We’re collecting worm castings to improve the soil,” Jody said. “The teachers drink coffee and save the coffee grounds and filters to feed the worms. We’re recycling, too.”
One student, Madison Smith, borrowed some of the worms for a winning science fair project at South Side. She went on to compete at East Tennessee State University’s science fair and “did well,” Jody said.
The castings, about 3-inches thick now at the bottom of the bin will be allowed to accumulate for next year’s garden. In the meantime, the children feed the worms and learn how castings make rich, natural fertilizer for the soil. Except for the “eew” factor among some of the girls, the worms have been popular.
“Mostly the worms stay in my office. The kids want to pick them up and play with them,” Jody said.
Eisenia foetida (red worms) can’t survive that much love.
Educare is an after- and before-school program that runs all summer for children with working parents. Some of