SOMERSET, NJ - The Harvest Day in mid-June marked the success of this year’s Seeds to Salad program with third graders at Whiton Elementary school located in Branchburg, and with Kindergarten, second, third and fourth graders at Pine Grove Manor Elementary School in Somerset.

Rutgers Master Gardener Volunteers of Somerset County and the students began their collaborative in-classroom workshops in March. The children learned about soil and composting, planting seeds and caring for the seedlings, and the role of earthworms, butterflies and beneficial insects.

The favorite part of the program took place outdoors, where the children and their teachers, joined the Master Gardeners in hands-on gardening activities. The young gardeners energetically put the theoretical skills into practice. First, they tidied and weeded the raised beds and in-ground rows.  The children then planted radishes, beets, onions, arugula, lettuce and spinach seeds and more, and transplanted overcrowded seedlings.   

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At the beginning of each outdoor session, Master Gardeners gave short lessons on the importance of maintaining the garden through watering, weeding, recognizing insects and disease. They explained the role of sunlight and temperature and talked about different types of roots and stems and plant part that students eat. Students also learned about the health benefits of including herbs and vegetables in their everyday diets.

Many children enjoyed “Harvest Day” the most. They eagerly pulled up the vegetables and herbs they had grown and shortly afterward they were able to taste their freshness at “Salad Extravaganza” parties in each school.

Having worked with the plants and soil, students gained respect and feel for nature. The program offered them an additional opportunity of enjoying their time outdoors and seeing how a garden can beautify the space around their school building. Children realized the fragility of growing food and understood where it comes from. The gardening experience provided an alternative way of learning about science and offered a practical exercise on working in teams and interacting with their peers and adults. Tending small plots instilled a sense of purpose and achievement in the children.

The Rutgers Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.  Rutgers Cooperative Extension is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.  Contact your local Extension Office for information regarding special needs or accommodations. Contact the State Extension Director’s Office with concerns related to discrimination, 848-932-3584.