It all started when Tarrant County Master Gardener Henry Cole decided to propose cleaning up a run down garden at an intermediate school as his Master Gardener Intern Project five years ago. Cole decided to teach 350 5th and 6th graders a skill that they could use for the rest of their lives. They planted, cultivated and harvested over 1,200 potatoes in the garden behind their intermediate school during the 2016 school year. Thanks to a Texas A&M researcher, a variety of potatoes were donated for the students to plant, grow, harvest and cook
“[We] figured out how much space we had, and [I was] sent 9 types of potatoes, 4 of which were commercially available, 5 of which were experimental,” Cole said.
“We divided up our raised beds into 9 different plots and we brought the potatoes in,” Cole said, “I had several master gardeners and parents come over to my house and cut the seed potatoes, sulfur them, let them age for a few days. Then we scheduled the students to come out into their school garden to plant the seed potatoes the following week.”
While teaching the students in the group how to use organization and problem solving skills, they carefully tended and cared for the growing potato plants for weeks until they were ready to harvest.
Then Cole, along with the help of others in the community, showed the students ways to prepare the potatoes. Having people from different parts of the community come out to support and help Cole and the students played a crucial role in the success of the project.
“I like to take my experience into the classroom and teach them not only gardening, but also how to prepare some of the potatoes for the table,” Cole said. “A chef friend of mine gave us 6 different recipes that came right from his restaurant. He is an executive chef at a very popular 4-star restaurant.”
After planting, cultivating and harvesting the potatoes, learning different ways to prepare and prep them, Cole and the students reflected about their involvement during the harvesting process. They weighed and counted the harvested the potatoes and the math classes created charts based on the data collected. All of the students got to take their potatoes home to share with their families.
“It turned out to be a really good experience all the way around,” Cole said. “The students were saying, I want to plant! Now we are getting the students thinking in terms of going out, working, and planting in the garden.”
Cole found out that planting the potatoes affected the student’s lives so much deeper than just the holes they dug in the garden. It had an impact on their home lives as well as their level of interaction at school. He calls this project “From Dirt To Table”.
The project became so large that it was even entered into a Texas state competition.
“This project was submitted as a research project in the extra-large Master Gardener category for a state competition,” Cole said. “We won first place in the state for this potato project for 2016 in the research division.”
Overall, Cole was able to enrich and encourage growth in the student’s lives, both in and out of the classroom.
“They’re not just getting this in their home life,” Cole said. “They’re getting it through school and the kids love of going out into the garden and interfacing with it, even if they’re just pulling weeds, counting butterflies, or counting caterpillars, they really like it. And they’re sharing this with their parents. It was a win-win for everybody”