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UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County launches school garden

As students at C.A. Weis Elementary School return for the new school year, they’ll notice something different about the area next to the outdoor space where physical education classes are usually held. Thanks to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, students will find a new school garden that offers hands-on learning and strives to be a community gathering place.

“The school used to have a garden, but it fell into disuse, which is when we stepped in,” said Beth Bolles, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County, who co-organized outreach at C.A. Weis with Angela Hinkle, a UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County agent who specializes in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

The project would not have been possible without the support of the school’s faculty and administration, the organizers said.

Once the school year is under way, students and their parents will begin planting cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and lettuce, in the garden’s five raised beds. Throughout the fall, these students will learn to grow, harvest and prepare the produce as a part of a healthy meal, said Hinkle.

This isn’t the first time that Bolles and Hinkle have establish a school garden at a local school. However, C. A. Weis is unique because it is one of only three community schools in Florida designed to facilitate community engagement in very low-income areas.

All 600 students at the school qualify for either free or reduced lunches, and parents are often stretched thin between multiple jobs and caring for their families, said Hinkle. In addition to public education, the school also offers health checks and financial management classes for adults. “A big challenge in this community is finding transportation,” she said, “so when more things are centrally located at the school, it makes it easier to access assistance.”

School hours at C. A. Weis are extended to 6 p.m., and students will spend some of this afterschool time learning basic garden care and how to prepare nutritious food. These activities will also incorporate reading, math and science—for example, the science of how plants grow or the reading skills and arithmetic needed to follow a recipe, Hinkle explained.

Developing these skills gives kids a sense of accomplishment and confidence, the organizers side. “They can take pride in doing something that is their own,” Bolles said. “They can say, ‘I know how to do this or make this, and now I want to show my mom.’”

By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307,

Sources: Beth Bolles, 850-475-5230,

Angela Hinkle, 850-475-5230,

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones