BIG HORN — A collaboration between environment groups, local businesses and schools is yielding real-life lessons for area elementary school students.

Members of Rooted in Wyoming, a group founded in 2016 to support local school and community gardens, teamed up with area elementary schools during April to celebrate Kids Gardening Month and Earth Day Month by helping young students out of the classroom to play in the dirt.

The group has presented workshops at the Tongue River Valley Community Center and Woodland Park, Sagebrush, Story, Holy Name, Highland Park and Big Horn elementary schools, according to Rooted in Wyoming Executive Director Lise Foy

“We’ve worked with more than 600 kids from kindergarten through the fifth grade,” Foy said.

She is quick to point out Rooted in Wyoming wasn’t alone in the effort. The program also included AmeriCorps members from Antelope Butte Foundation, Sheridan County Master Gardeners, the Tongue River Valley Community Center, volunteers and school staff and WYO Buckin’ Beans, as well as various sponsors who helped provide materials for the program.

Angie Caster of WYO Buckin’ Beans said she enjoys volunteering for the program and teaching the students about coffee and how it’s grown in different parts of the world.

“Our goal is to bring the love of dirt and instill future growers of Wyoming,” Caster said. “I also get to take the kiddos on an adventure — mentally of course — around the world, talk about coffee plants and the process of what makes mommy and daddy happy in that cup of joe.”

Foy said the program helps expose students to the importance of farming by teaching them how to plant, where various products come from, how different climates and soils affect plants and how worms and composting is beneficial.

Students dirty their hands planting tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and even zinnas, a colorful flower that attracts insects who then help pollinate the other plants.

The seeds planted by the students are held in the University of Wyoming Sheridan Research and Extension Center greenhouses until they are ready to distribute back to the schools to be planted in their gardens.

“It takes about four to six weeks,” Foy said. “There’s a lot of volunteers that help keep the gardens until the kids come back in the fall.”

Then, it’s back to the gardens at the various schools. Foy said the garden at Woodland Park has yielded up to 150 pounds of fresh produce, which was sold to the school’s food program for use in school lunches.

Kayla Woodward, a kindergarten teacher at Big Horn Elementary, said the collaboration and school garden is an exciting opportunity for students to learn outside the classroom.

“It’s just a great thing for all our kids to see,” Woodward said. “They can put what they learn to work.

“They get an idea of what they have to do if they have a garden,” she added. “They get so into it.”

Drew Hiller, a first-grader at Big Horn, said his favorite part is getting to handle the worms, part of the lesson on composting.

“I like them,” Hiller said. “They’re slimy.”

For fellow first-grader Shay Baltz, she preferred planting.

“You get to plant and learn about a potato,” she said.

Denise Bosley of Sheridan, a Rooted in Wyoming volunteer, said she believes such programs are important to help teach young students about gardening.

“Some of these kids might be our future farmers. We need them,” Bosley said at the event. “Not everyone can work in an office.”

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