Building, digging, planting and watering. These aren’t typical activities in an eighth grade history class, but they were in Eric Eaton and Matt Russell’s Ag in the classroom class at Polk County Middle School.
Through grants from Rutherford Electric Membership Corporation’s Bright Ideas program, the North Carolina Farm Bureau Insurance Ag In the Classroom program, and generous donations from Tim Edwards Landscaping, Avery Creek Nursery, and Henson’s Mulch and More, PCMS eighth graders are building a ” Garden of the Three Cultures”. This multi-year project will integrate science and social studies, providing students with valuable research and hands-on experience.
“We learned what Europeans, Native Americans and African Americans grew and what they used them for,” said eighth grade student Jerica Clark. Another student, Leah Dotson, added, “My favorite part was the beautification project. I really enjoyed making our school a nicer place.”
“The idea of a garden representing the three early cultures that settled North Carolina in the 16th and 17th centuries came to me a few years ago while Mr. Russell and I were working on a project about the early Native American groups in North Carolina” , he told Eaton, who teaches social studies in the eighth grade. “I thought what better way to teach the history of our state and our nation than through agriculture?
“We wanted to get students out of the classroom, get their hands dirty, and have them create a project they can take on and be proud of for years, while also incorporating our science and history standards and learning in a new way .”
The project involved research, planning, and physical labor to create three garden areas that represent plants, fruits, and herbs grown by Native Americans, Africans, and Europeans in colonial North Carolina. As an example, students built a Native American garden using the “Three Sisters” technique of planting corn, beans, and squash together. Students studied how and when these plants are grown and how these plants work together for higher yields.
In a nod to the importance of North Carolina agriculture today, an additional planting area was created to highlight important crops such as blueberries, strawberries, and cucumbers.
“Our students and we do careful research to ensure that the plants we grow are the varieties that those cultural groups would have either grown and eaten or adopted and shared with other cultural groups in colonial America,” Eaton said. “One of the difficult tasks is finding old varieties that correspond to those that were grown more than 200 years ago. If we can’t find close matches, we use close relatives. Like the students, I am also learning a lot about farming and farming.”
Students have also gained a greater appreciation for North Carolina’s modern agriculture and the diversity of career opportunities in agricultural fields. Students from Polk County High School Future Farmers of America gave a presentation to students to increase their interest in the high school’s farming program and the variety of farming careers available.
“This is a long-term project,” Eaton said. “We want to include more students and hopefully expand the gardens in the future. We also want to incorporate the produce we grow into our Life Skills courses with cooking and nutrition, and even donate grown fruits and vegetables to those in need.
“Like many of the vegetables we grow, this idea started as a small seed of an idea and can grow into something that nourishes the mind and body. The students were excited to share the project with others and are proud of what they built. At the end of the day, seeing our students grow is what makes teaching so valuable.”
“It was cool to see our hard work translate into something meaningful,” said eighth grader Bailey Staton.
If you are interested in a donation or help with plants, seeds or garden ideas please contact Eric Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org