AgCenter, Ascension public schools receive grant for school gardens

Johnny Morgan
Receiving the $30,000 donation from PCS Nitrogen to develop school gardens in Ascension Public Schools on Dec. 2 are Denise Bloomer, Dutchtown Middle assistant principal; Laurent Thomas, Lakeside Primary principal; Sandy Waguespack, Galvez Middle principal; Ellen Mathis, LSU AgCenter development director; Dawn Love, Lowery Elementary principal; Troy Blank, Oak Grove Primary principal; Robin Anderson, Sorrento Primary principal; Patrice Pujol, Ascension Parish Public Schools superintendent; Kiki Fontenot, LSU AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist; Garry Hiebert, PCS Nitrogen human resources manager; Patricia Espinoza, Dutchtown Primary principal; Lori Charlet, Gonzales Middle principal; Paisley Morgan, St. Amant Primary principal; Christina Knight, Central Primary principal; Monica Hills, Central Middle principal; Amy Champagne, Pecan Grove Primary principal, and Britt Colon, Spanish Lake Primary principal.

GONZALES – PCS Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Potash Corporation of Canada, recently made it possible for Ascension Parish students to learn science and math while growing their own food.

     The company donated $30,000 to the LSU AgCenter and Ascension Public Schools to establish gardens at 13 schools in the parish with the possibility of adding other schools.

     The participating schools are Gonzales Middle, Central Primary,  Central Middle,  Pecan Grove Primary, Dutchtown Primary, Dutchtown Middle, Galvez Middle, Oak Grove Primary, Lakeside Primary, Spanish Lake Primary, Lowery Elementary, Sorrento Primary and St. Amant Primary.

     AgCenter fruit and vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot has worked with several grants of this type in the past and said she looks forward to success in Ascension Parish.

     “We will use the funds to provide the schools with everything they need to establish their gardens,” Fontenot said. “This will include seed, soil and supplies.”

     In January 2016 the teachers will attend a series of workshops to prepare for gardening at their schools, Fontenot said.

     “We will begin with a full-day workshop, where we will teach them about timers, how to build the raised beds, how to use fertilizer,” she said. “They will be provided with everything they will need to get started.”

      After about six months, she will visit the schools to evaluate their progress and visit again after the one- year mark.

     “At that point, they will come back to a half-day workshop, where we will show them how to do fundraisers to make sure the gardens are sustainable,” Fontenot said.

     Similar programs are being conducted around the state, and two schools in Iberville Parish have expanded their gardens to double their original size.

     The donation will provide about $1,300 per school, she said.

     “So that would utilize about half the funds, which would allow us to add 13 more schools or extend the program for a second year with the 13 schools we have now.”       

     PCS Nitrogen human resources manager, Garry Hiebert, presented the funds to the LSU AgCenter and the Ascension Public Schools during a ceremony at Central Middle School on Dec. 2.

     “It’s an opportunity for our company to partner with the AgCenter and Ascension Public Schools to get young children interested in growing their own food and food sustainability in the area,” Hiebert said. “We’re in the fertilizer business and this is just a good partnering opportunity.”

     The goal of the program is for children to learn how planting a seed in the ground has the potential for feeding people around the world, he said.

     Patrice Pujol, Ascension Public Schools’ superintendent said this project is an excellent way for students to learn where their food comes from, as well as how to grow their own food.

     “It is just so exciting to get that kind of hands-on learning that garden environment provides for our students,” Pujol said. “We have that perfect intersection of nature and growth with our science curriculum and kids really being engaged in their learning.”