By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - The Pelican Island Audubon Society hopes to plant a seed of gardening fever into the hearts of Indian River County students this school year, thanks to a conservation grant.
The nonprofit organization, known for its love of birds, is bringing its focus down to the ground after receiving a $9,890 grant from TogetherGreen, a collaboration of Toyota and the National Audubon Society.
Peter Sutherland, Pelican Island Audubon Society director, said conservation education is a bigger part of the Audubon's mission, so providing students an opportunity to learn about vegetable gardening matches perfectly with their organization.
The group will work with schools to introduce students to square-foot gardening, a gardening technique for growing plants in a smaller area that saves water and avoids excessive fertilizer.
"And kids need to know about the link between real food and Publix or produce stands," Mr. Sutherland said.
The society's ultimate goal is to distribute 40, 4-foot by 4-foot garden boxes and kit materials to 40 classrooms, including all 29 schools in the system.
Mr. Sutherland said he expects they will start with two schools, Sebastian Charter Junior High School and Vero Beach Elementary School, once final approval has been given by the Indian River County School Board.
Square-foot gardening incorporates raised garden beds with a specific soil recipe. The proponents of the gardening system claim gardeners can reap a harvest in 20 percent of the space people would use in a conventional garden with 10 percent of the water, 5 percent of the seeds and 2 percent of the work.
"This isn't rocket science. It's a raised bed garden and it's just a case of learning it and doing it," Mr. Sutherland said.
He said the gardening project would be an education enrichment project where students could learn life skills growing vegetables, gain nutrition knowledge and have hands-on math and science experience in crafting the boxes, filling them with soil, spacing the seeds and more.
"They could even quantitatively calculate how much water they would use per square foot," Mr. Sutherland said.
Aside from the obvious education benefits, gardening itself is fulfilling, rewarding and just plain fun, he said.
"It's so great to get some dirt under your fingernails. And we want to share the wonder of a little seed growing," Mr. Sutherland said.
When a garden is in full bloom, it can lift the spirits of the gardener and passers-by.
"The plants can have all sorts of different color leaves, almost like a tapestry," Mr. Sutherland said.
The Pelican Island Audubon Society is hoping to receive help from other gardening aficionados when the time comes to plant the gardens and welcomes anyone who wishes to donate materials or time, he said.
For more information about this project or the Pelican Island Audubon Society, call (772) 567-3520 or visit www.pelicanislandaudubon.org.