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'Living laboratory': Boys & Girls Club builds more gardens to bring STEM education outdoors

May 19, 2021 / By Lisa Verdin

Rebekah Tuchscherer Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Kids at the Boys and Girls Club are taking their education outdoors.

But they're not heading for the concrete basketball courts or or the grassy playground this time around — instead, they're building raised garden beds to grow everything from peppers to popcorn.

The gardens, located at the youth nonprofit's eighth street location, are part of a partnership with Ground Works/South Dakota Ag in the Classroom to teach children how to best make healthy choices, while also learning about where their food originates.

"It's a huge lesson in STEM education," Cindy Heidelberger Larson, co-founder of Ground Works/SDAITC said. "It literally becomes a living laboratory, where they can take principles that they're learning inside the classroom and make them real life applications."

They also get some "sweat equity" in the process, she said, as they help fill the garden beds with soil and fertilizer, plant seeds, maintain the garden and eventually harvest its vegetables.

Two volunteers use a a screwdriver to build a teaching garden for the Boys and Girls Club on May 12, 2021.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Sioux Empire first partnered with Ground Works/SDAITC in 2017 to build four garden beds at the nonprofit's previous location on Sneve street.

Four years later, those original garden beds have been moved to organization's new building, and additional partners including the Westside Rotary, Minnehaha Master Gardeners, Concrete Materials and the City of Sioux Falls have helped the organization build four new garden beds to expand the hands-on learning.

Each garden will have a theme, ranging from "pizza," where pizza ingredients like tomatoes and peppers will be planted, to "movie night," where popcorn and sunflower seeds will grow. The fresh foods will then either be given to the children's parents to take home, or used in the cooking program.

"They're consumers from the get-go," Heidelberger Larson said. "Understanding that impact is important for them to make healthy and lifelong choices."

Ground Works/SDAITC has built garden beds at 22 locations since 2011. In the coming weeks, the organization will also be building building garden beds at the Sioux Falls Lutheran School and Harrisburg school district.

Three members of the Boys and Girls Club watch as one of the many volunteers working to build the teaching gardens shows them how to rake the soil.

Rebekah Tuchscherer is an agriculture and environment reporter for the Argus Leader. Follow her on Twitter @r2sure.