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J.S. Aucoin garden teaches growing, eating veggies

AMELIA — Kmberly Perez ate her share of cauliflower, and then she asked for more.
“I normally don’t eat vegetables,” said the fourth-grader, a member of the garden club at J.S. Aucoin Elementary School in Amelia.
The cauliflower was grown in the school garden, and it was sautéed with bread crumbs by Jessica Randazzo, LSU AgCenter nutrition agent in St. Mary Parish.
While she cooked, Randazzo explained the benefits of cauliflower, including vitamin C, fiber and folates.
Another fourth-grader, Astrid Sanchez, said she likes cauliflower but with a twist. “When I eat cauliflower, I eat them with eggs,” she said.
The school garden club meets during recess, and students tend to the vegetables with help from Master Gardener Denise Mayon of Bayou Vista. She explained to students how to harvest broccoli and carrots.
She told students to leave one small broccoli clump that was about to flower. “We’ll let this keep growing to draw bees to the garden,” Mayon said.
Mayon said she enjoys working with the children. “I love seeing the kids getting excited about growing stuff. Aside from loving the sunshine, this is may be a good way to stimulate interest in an agriculture future.”
Several students have said they want to start a garden at home. “And the fact that they’re eating something fresh and green, that’s the reward,” she said.
School principal Shantell Toups said this is the third year for the garden club, and it has grown every year.
Students who participate meet during their recess to tend to the garden.
Randazzo has been the driving force behind the school garden. “She has been a phenomenal asset to this whole project,” Toups said.
Mayon and her husband, Dwain Mayon, have been a big help doing much of the physical labor to get the gardens established, she said.
And students are more eager to try vegetables they have grown. “They’ll try just about anything,” Toups said.
The club also brings parents to show them snacks that can be made with the vegetables, and students are given recipes to take home to parents.
An indoor herb garden is getting started, and work will start soon on a butterfly garden, Toups said.
School cafeteria cooks use vegetables from the garden, including romaine lettuce and collard greens, and students eat their lunches more enthusiastically, knowing that they grew some of the food, Randazzo said.
Students like salads, but the school system didn’t have the money for ingredients. “They had quite a demand, but it wasn’t cost-effective for the parish,” she said.
Now the school has a goal of serving salads to the whole school for lunch every Friday, and Randazzo got grant money to buy a 5-gallon salad spinner.
To start the garden, Randazzo used a grant from 4-H Food Smart Families funded by UnitedHealthCare and a Healthy Communities mini grant.
Bobbie Mitchell, LSU AgCenter nutrition agent in St. Martin Parish, came to the garden club meeting to see how Randazzo’s efforts have worked. Mitchell said she has a garden program at an adult daycare center in St. Martin Parish, but she would like to get a school garden program underway, too.

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