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Program teaches students how to grow organic food
South Forsyth High School student Ashley Lydy hugs Jon Arant after learning to plant a garden. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Ashley Lydy loves to eat vegetables.

The South Forsyth High School student learned how to grow them earlier this week during a Seeds to Table event Wednesday.

The organic gardening program for students with disabilities was sponsored by Home Depot, which sent a group of gardening experts to help the students plant organic food and butterfly gardens.

“We’re out here to help these kids learn and understand how important it is to be able to grow your own food,” said Home Depot employee Gail Mann. “You can do a lot in the classroom, but when you get outside and start digging in the dirt, they remember those kinds of things because they’re very visual ... and when they see it, they absorb it better.”

Veronica Phillips, whose son Jeremy was one of the students learning how to garden, attended the event to show her support. An avid gardener herself, Phillips said she’s excited for her son and his peers to get to be part of the process from the beginning.

“These kids get to know that vegetables don’t just come from supermarkets. They actually start from a seed and they have to be nurtured ... they get to learn how to harvest them and take them into the kitchen and cook them and it’s wonderful they get to see the whole process.”

Special education teacher Jon Arant said the on-campus garden is a nice reinforcement, but it “pales in comparison” to what the company, and about 20 others do for his students on a regular basis.

“This is great, we love this,” he said about the gardens. “But even more important is the fact that they open up their businesses to allow us to come in a couple times a week and work. The kids get social skills, job skills and that’s more impressive to me.

“What they allow us to do weekly in their stores, in front of their customers, in front of their employees — it’s just nice for them to treat our children just like they would anybody else in the community.

The gardens are the newest addition to the special needs program, which also has a miniature Ingles grocery store in one of the classrooms. The mock store has a register, a variety of priced foods and weekly flyers.

“Having the Ingles store in here, we can work on these skills daily — adding, picking up stuff, restocking shelves, merchandizing, straightening items — it’s just a way to enhance their experience,” Arant said.

The organic gardening project will be more than gardening, Arant said. Instead of learning about using a ruler inside the classroom, students can instead go to their outside classroom in the garden and measure how much their vegetables grew over a period of time. It opens the door to more hands-on learning opportunities, Arant said.

“It just makes it more exciting,” he said. “If we can show them new and exciting ways to learn, that’s great. And this is another opportunity for that.”

Mann said she’s excited to offer the garden to the students, but added it’s just as much fun for her.

“It makes us feel good to come out and be able to help. We have a lot of special needs kids that come to the store and we do workshops for them, so this is a chance for us to get outside,” she said. “It also gives them the skills to learn how to do certain things in life ...  it’s very rewarding.”