Golden Shovel Award
Press Release - Osceola News-Gazette - May 1, 2015

Koa garden recognized by Dept. of Agriculture

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer

An Osceola County school garnered an award from the state Department of Agriculture last week honoring schools with exceptional gardens.

The garden project at Koa Elementary in Poinciana, dubbed “Koa’s Kinder-garden,” was honored in the Elementary division for Best Use of Produce and received one of 12 inaugural Florida Farm to School “Golden Shovel” Awards.

Koa kindergarten teacher Tiffany Gilbert said the garden started back in 2012 as a way to grow vegetables to feed her class’ pet, Mr. Chubbles, a 16-pound rabbit.

“Mr. Doran from Farm to School told me on the phone how much everyone in his office loves Mr. Chubbles,” she said.

The award package arrived Wednesday and includes the award, a certificate and a list of prizes to choose from.

“We get to choose a garden prize and a cafeteria prize. The cafeteria prize will encourage healthy eating for our students here at Koa,” Gilbert said.

She said she applied for as many grants as she could find in fall of 2011, and by the following spring had garnered $10,000 to get the project out of the ground.

What resulted is about 220 square feet of fenced-in planting area that is accessible to all little hands and arms. Pavers were used to build the plant beds in order to make the garden a permanent fixture at the school, and with seating added it can be an outdoor extension of the classroom.

“For the past three years, our garden has become an outside classroom and an awesome learning experience for all our students,” Gilbert said.

Students can eat the foods that they grow, specific vegetables for Gilbert’s class pets (now featuring bunnies, hamsters and ducklings) such as lettuce, kale, carrots, broccoli, parsley and cilantro. The garden also gives her students the chance to see where food comes from and the hands-on knowledge of how to grow their own food.

“Teachers utilize our garden with science activities and hands-on learning. It is a concrete way to teach the life cycle,” Gilbert said.

The garden can generate about 400 pounds of produce in a school year. The school cafeteria uses the harvest to make school lunches, she said, and students and staff take any extra produce home so nothing goes to waste.

And it continues to grow. The school was awarded another $4,300 grant from Lowe’s to build a gazebo next to the garden for a shaded outdoor classroom area and develop a farmer’s market program for fourth and fifth graders in the near future.

“We are continually applying for grants to maintain the upkeep and make improvements to our garden,” Gilbert said.

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said that school gardens are a critical part of the Farm to School model, allowing students to connect with the growing process.

“Studies show children who are involved in growing their own food make healthier choices about what to eat and show improved academic performance,” he said in a release.

In the past three years, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has worked with schools across the state to implement and support school gardens. The department even began its own garden in Tallahassee that helps educate students, teachers and parents about how to start and maintain a school garden.

For more information about the state’s school garden program at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit Farm to School.

Golden Shovel
Garden 1
Garden 2  Garden 3


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