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Baltimore County

Pinewood Elementary students cultivate green thumbs, agricultural knowledge

Last week, some 218 students from Pinewood Elementary in Timonium, descended on Maryland State Fairgrounds to culminate an agricultural project begun at their school in March.

The students from grades second through fourth, spent the morning and early afternoon on June 10 rotating among stations that included planting a green wall; decorating farm animal masks with seeds, part of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) initiative; and visiting the on-site farmers' market.

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The My Maryland State Seed, Soil and Students program, a joint venture between the school and fairgrounds, started on National Agriculture Day in March, when state fair staff visited Pinewood and taught 700 kindergarten through fifth-grade students how to plant seeds that would ultimately be used to create the green wall.

The students nurtured the plants until Earth Day when state fair staff returned to check on their progress and to teach about soil types and nutrition. The hope is to expand the program in the future.

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"They're our neighborhood school. They're right around the corner [from the fairgrounds]. We felt it would be a great educational experience," said Andy Cashman, fairgrounds' general manager, which picked up the $2,000 tab for food and supplies for the day.

Stephanie Elliott, treasurer of Pinewood PTA, said the idea for the event arose last spring after talking with other parents about food education.

"We felt there was a need in the elementary school. When I ask kids where food comes from, I get blank looks, although one kid did say 'farmers.' I thought, 'We're heading in the right direction,'" said Elliott, a Timonium resident who hails from central Illinois and a family farm.

Enter Robert Fogle, director of agricultural programs at the fairground, where the school's annual carnival is held. On food education, he couldn't agree more.

"Most kids are three generations removed from the farm," he said. "It's important to keep agriculture in the forefront," he added, and coordinated the day's events with the county school system.

A few special visitors were also on hand for the event, including Miss Maryland Agriculture 2014, Jordan Mister, 16, of Huntingtown, population 3,000, in Calvert County. Jordan's family has a 100-plus-acre farm and Jordan herself raises hogs, goats and sheep for her 4-H club.

On the blistering hot June day, Jordan was doing what she likes best about being Miss Maryland Agriculture.

"I talk about how important agriculture is in our lives, mainly in elementary school classrooms and mostly in Calvert and St. Mary's counties," said Jordan, who was accompanied by her mother.

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Also in attendance was Maryland State Dairy Princess Autumn Lippy who taught students about how milk and other dairy items are produced from cows. And, "Farmer Stan" Dabkowski made batches of kettle corn in a giant corn popper while explaining the difference between pop corn, field corn and sweet corn.

Meanwhile, over by the green wall, second-grade students were putting the plants they had grown into cut-out milk cartons to sit on shelves tacked to a wall.

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"The kids were very excited" about the event, Seth Weitkamp, a second grade teacher who was chaperoning the group. "We talked about what it takes for plants to grow, where food comes from."

Joshua Farley, 8, visited two, an egg farm and a pick-your-own fruit orchard.

"Food comes from seeds," said Joshua, who grows squash and tomatoes in a garden at home and basil in a pot.

Julia Norris, 8, , has also visited a farm. "It was cool. You can grow all these things and eat them, too," she said.

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Laura Esslinger belongs to Pinewood's gardening club, on behalf of which she has cleaned the school yard, planted a garden in front and made compost.

"We learn about plants and how they live," the 8-year old said of the garden club. Like the other students, Laura has visited a farm and tends a garden at home.

"I like growing things," she said.


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