By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

In the green space between buildings at Catholic Elementary School of Pointe Coupee in New Roads, dozens of children are talking, laughing and gardening. Tiny hands work the soil of potted plants, pulling grass and weeds and checking to see if the plants need water. 

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Students at Catholic Elementary School of Pointe Coupee in New Roads work in their school garden. Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

Twenty-seven children, in grades first through third, belong to the new garden club at the school. 

“I like garden club because we get to see our friends, we get to get our hands dirty, we get to plant all the plants,” said second-grader Parker Wells.   

“I like how we get to plant plants and how we get to water,” said Ann Bergeron, another second-grader.  

The seeds for growing a garden club at the school began when principal Jason Chauvin saw Victoria Soileau, a teacher’s aide in kindergarten, digging in the soil for a class project. 

“There’s a lot of agriculture here,” said Chauvin. “It’s big in this community. I think it’s imperative the students learn about different forms of agriculture.” 

Last school year, Chauvin said the school started a number of clubs for students but “I felt we left out younger students.” He said he noticed those students yearning to be a part of a club but had to wait until they reached a certain grade to participate. The school already had fourth-grade 4H Club members maintaining some of the flowerbeds around campus and Chauvin had been contacted by parent and LSU
AgCenter county agent Mark Carriere about starting a school garden.

“It was a sign from God that I was walking outside and Mrs. Soileau was digging in the soil,” laughed Chauvin. 

“He (Chauvin) asked if I would see it out,” Soileau recalled. “And I took it and ran with it.” 

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Soileau comes from a long line of ranchers and farmers and even showed cows when she was in elementary school. She and her husband Timothy are purchasing her grandparent’s farm and she is studying to earn a degree in agribusiness. Now, she is trying to help these students put down roots that will lead to life-long lessons. 

“A majority of the kids are from some type of agriculture background but still do not know where their food is from,” said Soileau. “So I was just hoping the garden club would help, whether it just got one of the kids in the dirt wanting to dig or one not knowing where a tomato came from, and to hopefully get them to try the fruits and vegetables that we’re growing and hopefully like them and want to eat them.”

“I really like it because I like to plant plants at my mama’s house and I really like nature a lot,” said second-grader Abigail Otergo, who also likes to eat carrots, cauliflower and radishes. 

The garden club meets one hour after school every Wednesday to tend to the plants, which include turnips, radishes, green onions, carrots, lettuce, Swiss chard, cabbage and cauliflower. Plants are planted in either raised beds or recycled molasses tubs. The funding for materials comes from grants while local businesses donate soil, plants and other items, according to Carriere, who oversees two other school gardens in Pointe Coupee Civil Parish. Students will plant fall and spring gardens, and a nutrition agent with the LSU AgCenter will cook some of the vegetables that are grown, he said.

“The goal is to get them out and realize there is math and science and history in a garden, and also to understand not all bugs are bad and that you eat different parts of a plant, from the root to the leafy part,” Carriere explained. “We try to incorporate as much educational component into the garden as we could.” 

Soileau said every meeting starts with the children pulling out weeds and grass and checking the soil for moisture.

“I’m checking the soil to see if it’s wet enough,” said second-grader Annabelle Garret, her hands covered with dirt. “I love plants and I want to keep them healthy so the world can be beautiful.” 

“I like garden club because we get to get our hands dirty and we get to taste all kinds of food when it gets done growing and we get to plant them,” said Hudson Beauvais, another second-grader. 

Soileau said the students planted flowers donated by a parent in front of the school. She said they were able to work the soil, add fertilizer (using a cup and not their hands) and dig holes for the flowers, which “are still going strong.” On rainy days, the children work in their journals and discuss plants, including the ones that will be planted in the spring. 

“We’ve had several garden club meetings and every meeting we’ve gotten to plant something,” said Soileau. “So they’ve really, really enjoyed it.” 

“I think it’s awesome,” said Chauvin, who has a view of the front flowerbeds from his office. “Students can see what their putting their time into on their own campus. It may cut down on someone maybe throwing down a candy wrapper and them saying, ‘Hey, I’m taking care of that.’ ”

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