With the school year near its end, it was time Wednesday to let the Manning Early Childhood Center first-graders who planted and nursed a vegetable garden behind the school to harvest their crop. More than a dozen raised gardens behind the school sprouted a variety of crops. Each class was responsible for one or more of the beds.
The first group of students, with the help of Marie Land, a Master Gardener and MECC mentor, grew radishes, tomatoes, herbs, spices, flowers and more as part of the school's wellness program, which is intended to teach the children healthy lifestyles.
The beds were constructed by Manning High School FFA and coach Michael Haynes, Land said.
After the harvest, Land took the vegetables and herbs home, washed them and prepared a salad, a strawberry cake and mint tea for the children to sample what they had raised.
"They even ate the radishes," she said. "Some people don't like radishes."
She said she encouraged the children to try stuff they had never eaten.
The plants were donated by Bonnie Plants, and the wellness program benefited from grants from the Medical University of South Carolina and Boeing.
MECC Enterprise Learning Coach Kelli Bellant said the students not only learned about agriculture, but are also encouraged to eat more nutritional foods by learning about vegetables.
"Agriculture is a huge industry in South Carolina," she noted.
Many of the children come from impoverished homes, she said, and they may not get much variety in their meals at home.
Letting the children harvest the garden was something like turning loose a horde of locusts, but Land was able to slow the children somewhat by having them divided into groups. Some children were assigned to herbs, some to radishes and some to leafy vegetables.
The radishes were the first to be uprooted by the young gardeners, with the first-graders eager to show what they pulled from the ground. In the children's eyes, even the smallest radish was shown with pride, and the largest radish was considered a most prestigious prize, gleefully lifted in the air for all to see.
Using scissors, the children trimmed the leafy vegetables, and Land was even able to find a tomato that was almost ripe.
Land said she and Bellant would keep the garden watered during the summer, and next year's students will be able to enjoy some of the harvest at that time.
"I got as much out of it as the children," Land said.
Not much was left of the herbs and leafy vegetables when the kids were finished, but it was definitely a joyful harvest.