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Couple teaches students about gardening during growing years

September 25, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - As retired educators and master gardeners, Janet and Gordon Bartels of Hagerstown are specialists in the fields of reaping, writing and arithmetic.

With a new year of school under way, the couple is seeing the fruits of its labor, just as students at Bester and Winter Street elementary schools - where the Bartels planted gardens - are collecting grades.

According to the Bartelses, families and students have helped and harvested vegetables planted in a gardening project started in the spring.

"Anybody that comes down ... if they're walking their dog, if they have their kids on the playground ... we give them produce," said Gordon Bartels, a retired elementary school teacher.

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As part of their community service to become master gardeners through the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension program, the Bartelses said they planted the garden at Bester and earth boxes at Winter Street to benefit the schools' families and children.

"We're trying to introduce, and to get the kids to value, vegetables," said Janet Bartels, a retired librarian.

On Thursday, Gordon Bartels cleared vines from the large garden outside Bester, and 9-year-olds Isaiah Lowery and Joshua Andrews chased each other in the grass.

"Josh eats some of the veggies. He's willing to try ... basically, everything we've done in the garden, he's had to try. He's learned to like tomatoes a little bit, not big time," said Angela Frazier, a self-described "herb fanatic" who occasionally has joined the Bartels in the garden with her son, Joshua.

Joshua, who spoke with breathless excitement between playing, said he enjoyed helping with the garden.

"The thing (that) I think I thought it was really amazing to see the plants turn into food," Joshua said.

He even prodded one unwitting garden visitor to eat a flower from a nasturtium plant. The orange petals produced a peppery taste that seemed to increase in intensity after being swallowed.

"And that was really amazing, too, that you could actually eat a flower," said Joshua, as he nibbled at a corner of a petal before chugging water.

The garden at Bester also includes tomatoes, sunflowers, black raspberries and greens. Earlier in the year, gardeners harvested cantaloupes, zucchini and watermelons, the Bartelses said.

Gordon Bartels piled tomatoes and squash on a grassy spot beside a patch of peppers. Teachers, students and families all have gone home with produce, the Bartelses said.

"We had a cantaloupe, seriously, it was the size of a basketball. It was beautiful," Gordon Bartels said.

Two pumpkins from the garden now decorate the school's office, he said.

Janet Bartels said she hopes to expand the after-school gardening program. She said next year she would like to plant corn and strawberries.

From learning about nutrition and new recipes to discovering the benefits of hard work and tender loving care, gardens have a lot to teach growing minds, Bartels said.

"No matter how bad things get, if you can just watch, there's so much to see in a garden," she said.

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