By CHRISTINA ULSH
The pre–kindergartners of Lillie J. Jackson Early Childhood Center now get to garden as part of their curriculum thanks to The Mahan Foundation’s new initiative, Plant Your Plate.
The Lillie Jackson garden is the first of a series of gardens The Mahan Foundation plans to give grade schools in the metroplex to teach children the science of growing food. PGA pro golfer Hunter Mahan and former Cowboys cheerleader Kandi Mahan visited the education center on Oct. 11 for a ribbon cutting, to see the progress of the plants and to share story time with the students.
The couple founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, which has awarded more than $181,000 to charities targeting health, wellness, children and the military.
“Each child got to plant a seed. Each grabbed a little seed, stuck it in the ground or they planted a plant,” Kandi Mahan said of the garden’s beginnings in mid-September. “The whole thing was planted by the kids with our supervision.”
Vegetables are marked by popsicle sticks with each participating student’s name on it. In turn the 3 and 4 year olds will be able to determine which green they planted and watch it grow through the season.
On the outskirts of the edible garden are two smaller butterfly gardens, which will attract monarchs and will be incorporated into a lesson on the butterfly life cycle, Principal Dulia Longoria said.
“This has been a lifetime dream of ours on our campus,” Longoria said. “This is also the beginning of an outdoor learning space for us. We plan to extend it.”
The expanded outdoor learning space will include areas that will integrate math, language arts, social studies and science. Longoria said she hopes the garden will flourish into a community endeavor, where locals will help the school continue and foster the plant beds.
Hunter Mahan said the idea came from the Mahans’ own home garden, which started with an apple tree, tomato plants and jalapenos before the family developed it further.
“We saw how our kids reacted to seeing them grow, and they would just take the tomatoes off and bite into them,” he said. “It’s just an amazing thing to see something grow like that and see our kids respond in such a positive way.”
Kandi Mahan said starting children young with healthy eating helps the habit stick. Eating healthy, in turn, helps kids feel better, sleep better, perform better in school and become a better individual, she said.
“I know that sometimes as parents it’s a lot easier to hand your kids a package of Goldfish crackers than an apple, but if you look at what your children are eating over a 12-hour period and you put it on paper, you don’t want it to always be a Pop-tart and then Goldfish for a snack and then mac and cheese or pizza,” she said. “If you give the kid a chance to learn healthy eating from a young age, they love it.”
Hunter Mahan said the ongoing project is a real–world concept that provides students with numerous educational opportunities.
“It opens their eyes to what’s possible — seeing something they planted getting some sunlight, getting water and seeing it grow,” he said. “Why does it grow? And how does it grow? They can start to learn that, and then get outside and get their hands dirty.”
The nonprofit will evaluate the garden in coming seasons and base future Plant Your Plate spots on what it learns.
“What can we do better? What can we do differently? Each garden will be different because each school’s going to be different and have different needs, but we just want to do one great one at a time,” Hunter Mahan said. “We’ll see what happens to it, see how it grows.”
Lillie J. Jackson Early Childhood Center is not the only school in Lewisville ISD that is merging hands-on cultivation with science lessons.
Earlier this year Southridge Elementary received a $25,000 grant for the Southridge Outdoor Learning Facility from Seeds of Change. It was one of two schools nationally to get the grand prize for its garden program.
Those wishing to contribute garden supplies, a picnic table, waterproof boots for the kids or any other sort of help can contact the foundation at email@example.com or Dulia Longoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about The Mahan Foundation, go to www.mahanfoundation.com.