A group of college students spending a weekend at the beach is a common occurrence. Having them take time out from sunbathing to weed a community garden is rare.
Recently, members of the University of Georgia Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority did just that. The sorority travelled to Savannah, Ga., for a sisterhood retreat. While there, they put the horticulture skills they are learning through the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to use at Charles Ellis Elementary School.
Unlike other schools in the area, Ellis is a public Montessori school focused on hands-on and exploratory learning. For several years, the teachers there have wanted a garden where the students can plant, tend and harvest their own vegetables.
Since one of Sigma Alpha's main goals is community service, the perfect partnership was formed. Sigma Alpha helped plan the school’s garden, which had become overgrown. Teri Schell of the Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah organized the service day.
Schell said the students will benefit from having a garden because they will be able to see the full circle of food, from planting it, to growing it to eating it.
Lynsey Jackson, a UGA senior from Covington, Ga., worked with Schell to get the sorority involved. When asked why community service is important, she said, “If we don’t help, who will?”
The UGA students surveyed the proposed location, gave insight on what needed to be done and then cleared the area of weeds and leaves. They also worked with students to plant a peach tree and several blueberry bushes.
They also helped Patra Rickman, a pre-k and kindergarten teacher at Ellis, plant a pizza garden. All of the vegetables in this garden can be used as pizza toppings.
Rickman said the garden is an important tool for showing students a "real-life example on the food cycle and how to take care of the earth." For her, it is essential that students are able to see the big picture, especially because so many children these days are not aware of where their food comes from.
By helping design the school garden, the UGA students used the skills learned in their CAES courses. Based on their suggestions, the school plans to build four raised beds for students to tend. The Sigma Alpha students suggested raised beds because they minimize weeds and will make the plots more visible to keep them from being trampled by the students.
The elementary school students aren’t the only ones who benefited from the project.
"It is important to help others that aren't as fortunate and to make the community a better place to live," said Karen Stubbs, a UGA sophomore from Suwanee, Ga.