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School garden teaches not just about farming

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The idea of having a school garden program is nothing new for Eskuelan San Francisco de Borja. The program is a popular way to promote hands-on learning, sustainability, healthy eating, and camaraderie.

The school garden program started two years ago with the assistance of Solly Takai-Nakamura of the Northern Marianas College-Cooperative Research, Extension, and Education Service.

Takai-Nakamura spearheaded the School Garden Workday pilot project. Its mission is to help ESFDB create, sustain, and use onsite gardens by providing resources, professional consultation, and educational programming.

Now, with the assistance of both the NMC-CREES headed by Davi Bowen and the Rota Department of Lands and Natural Resources-Specialty Crop Block Grant Program under Gus Maratita, they play an important role in making the school garden program flourish.

The block grant program teaches students how to grow their own food, prepares future farmers at an early age, tutors students on agricultural techniques, introduces the concept of integrated pest management, viability, and food security.

“We envision a future in which school garden education helps children become healthy youths who eat their fruits and vegetables, know the basics of growing food, and contribute to a thriving Luta community,” school administrator/principal Carmen H. Atalig said.

“We see that many our students’ minds come alive in the garden in a way they don’t in the classroom. The environment itself is transforming. There’s something about being outside in a natural setting that seems to stimulate the senses,” Atalig added.

Atalig added that the students have an opportunity to engage in agricultural practices on a small scale, learning about the responsibilities and impacts of land cultivation. They may be able to explore the interactions among the living and nonliving players that sustain life. By doing so, they develop a greater understanding of the natural world.

The partnerships between ESFDB, NMC-CREES, Rota DLNR, and the community play an important role for a school garden program to succeed.

“During the beginning of the school year, the student’s started with soil base growing. Their plant beds are neither luxurious nor insignificant. To young, formative minds, these green spaces represent an introduction to farming,” said school garden coordinator Edward C. Maratita Jr.

“Thanks to former Rota mayor Melchor A. Mendiola who provided eggplants, okras, green onions, spinach, bell pepper, and cherry tomato seeds and seedlings to start off,” said Maratita, “the students are seeing the fruits of their labor growing before their eyes.”

“And school garden teaches not just about farming with the introduction of the hydroponic system, the students are learning another way of farming. …It is another fresh approach to growing food. Hydroponic educates about all things hydroponic (water) and soilless growing and the many benefits and advantages of hydroponic growing over soil-based growing.

“[It] is often emphasized that hydroponic yields produce faster and in greater quantities. There are several reasons why hydroponic plants grow faster but many of these reasons are largely dependent on the type of hydroponic system being used, and of course the care that’s being provided by the farmer,” said Maratita.

“Being part of our school gardening was rewarding because we are being educated on the importance of growing our food and various ways in gardening. At the same time, we are getting good grades for our involvement,” said student body council president and 8th grade student Auston Guiawan. (ESFDB)

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