Growing in education, character and community

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DUNCAN, Okla. — What started out as a small project for Charmin Holland’s kindergarten class at Woodrow Wilson Elementary became a project of the heart.

The class had started with two small tub gardens during the drought to explain to students the parts of plants like roots, stems, leaves and where food comes from.

After the drought ended the project got some help from Pathways to a Healthy Stephens County.

Kim Keeler said the teachers wanted to build a bigger garden for the whole school to be able to get fresh produce.

“We wanted to expand and that’s when Kim  contacted our school about making some big gardens,” said Holland. “We had applied for a grant which we didn’t get, but she felt like it was such a good idea and plan they went around to businesses to see if they would donate either supplies or money.”

Through the help of Duncan Builders Supply, Garden Town, Ace Hardware, Duncan Regional Hospital and Pathways to a Healthy Stephens County, they were able to create three large garden beds for the whole school.

The big garden was full of tomato plants and before the weather changed the kindergartners went to pick some vegetables.

“It’s going to start getting cooler so I thought I would take the kids out and we’ll get the ones that are ripe and talk about them,” she said. “When we got out there because the plants were so large and had fallen over we gathered up a huge tub of tomatoes. We had no idea we had that many that were ripe. It was like an Easter egg hunt — they were just gathering and they were so excited when they would find one.”

After the tomato hunt everyone took home the fresh veggies but wondered what to do with the 50 that were left?

Holland said she found inspiration on her drive to work.

“I drive past the homeless shelter everyday and read the sign and never really thought anything about,” Holland said. “But that week I had seen someone sitting out outside at a table and something stirred in my heart.”

When Holland got to her class she knew why her heart had been touched. She what homeless meant and how the shelter was somewhere people could get help to her class.

“I asked ‘Do you think I should go see the manager and see if they can use these tomatoes?’” she said. “Of course they said ‘yes.’ They are so tender-hearts, and are willing to give anything to anyone.”

The manager at Sought-Out Ministry was very excited according to Holland.

“He said they could use them for soups and stews and freeze them and use them all winter,” she said.

The garden is more than a tool for Holland but a place that shows what community means.

“We call it the ‘Gathering Place’. It was our goal to not just make it not just for our classroom but expanded it into our community — it’s because of our community that we were even able to have the garden and just being able to give back,” she said. “It just comes full circle with how the community helps the schools. It just melts my heart and makes me tear up — because this is what community is, you work together.”

Even though Jack Frost made a quick run through Stephens County the garden is still teaching.

“Now that the frost and the cold has hit, it just knocked the tomato plants out and they were just lifeless on the ground,” Holland said. “The kids were just so upset, they thought someone had come in and destroyed their plants. So we talked about how cold weather effects plants and we will plant again in the spring.”

Provost writes for The Duncan Banner, a CNHI News Service publication.