Students turn harvest into spicy treat

FAIRMONT – On Friday, the hallway outside Betty Egan’s fourth-grade classroom at Fairmont Elementary smelled of onions, peppers, tomatoes and a hint of lemon.

“It smells like tacos,” said one student passing by.

Egan’s students sliced up the onions and herbs they harvested from the CER garden that morning, along with tomatoes brought in by students and staff.

They also learned how to crush garlic cloves, and some were brave enough to try jalapenos.

Once the salsa was finished, some students who wouldn’t touch salsa before learned they liked the mild version. Others braved the spicier varieties.

It was a big project for only the second day of school, but the CER garden offered the class not only ingredients, but a learning opportunity.

“Most of our tomatoes are gone; it got too hot for them,” said CER director Roni Dauer, looking over several raised beds in a shaded area at the school.

However, there were onions ready, along with several herbs.

“Lemon balm, basil; over here is rosemary,” Dauer listed as she looked over the tags by the plants. “They used a lot of these.”

CER’s garden club was active during the spring and summer. A group of 10 to 15 students planted vegetables and flowers, and learned about trying new things and dealing with gardening setbacks, such as the weather.

“We tried to start in April, but it was still snowing,” Dauer said. “And then we had a late, wet spring.”

The garden club was one of the ideas launched by the Youth Wellness Council, which has representatives and advisers from the third through sixth grades. Financing for the program was provided by the Statewide Health Improvement Program, along with businesses and individuals donating supplies.

“We had blue potatoes donated to us that are still growing,” Dauer said. “The 4-H club had these earth beds before, and it was better than digging up part of the grass, and we were also able to place them out of the way of the lawnmowers.”

Then there was the fun of exploration.

“Jane Sorenson with the Extension office is so good at getting kids to try new things,” Dauer said. “We had made a spinach and strawberry salad. We also picked some pansies we had, and the kids had so much fun making the salads that they were willing to try them. The pansies are an edible flower, so they were able to eat the flowers too.”

Some of the plants may even be able to be saved and carried over to next summer.

“We will be incorporating the garden into the Lights On For Kids program,” Dauer said. “It was fun for [students] to try what they planted. They learned they liked things.”