Willie Price Students Plant New Learning Garden at UM

Partnerships, volunteers help shape real food curriculum

Parent and volunteer Tess Johnson helps Willie Price Lab School students sow seeds at the school’s new learning garden. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The seeds are planted for a new learning garden at the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School, which will allow the pre-K facility to integrate gardening and an understanding of food sources into its curriculum.

Several 3- and 4-year-olds at Willie Price, part of the UM School of Education, recently planted radishes, lettuce, carrots and garlic with the help of FoodCorps service member and parent Tess Johnson and others.

Sarah Langley, director of Willie Price, also partnered with preschool parents, UM Landscape Services, the Office of Sustainability and the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reinstall the garden, which had previously been part of the school’s curriculum.

“Tess became involved with FoodCorps and she approached us about revitalizing the space and has volunteered to lead a parent committee and organize all of the planting and harvesting events for our Willie Price students,” Langley said. “Before, the garden was an amazing space with tomatoes, blackberries, carrots and herbs everywhere, and the children were out there all the time.

“They were working with two gardeners, but for budget reasons, from what I understand, the space became neglected and we were no longer able to maintain that partnership.”

Johnson said that it was her work with Oxford Elementary School students that inspired her to help bring gardening back to Willie Price.

“I’m always blown away when I ask even fourth- or fifth-graders, ‘What’s your favorite food?’ and, if they say French fries, they think they came from McDonald’s or the grocery store,” Johnson said. “They have no idea that someone grew those potatoes and that’s how their food got there.”

Johnson also helped Willie Price students make a healthy snack of homemade hummus with pita chips and carrots on the day of the planting.

“It’s just so important for kids to be outside with fresh air, green space and to know where their food comes from,” she said.

In addition to enthusiastic parents, Willie Price also received a $500 grant from the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reopen the garden.

“We are interested in reaching out to more early child care programs with our school garden grants because we know that the earlier we can reach kids with good produce, fruits and vegetables, the more likely they will be interested in those foods when they are older,” said Sunny Young Baker, co-director of the Mississippi Farm to School Network.

 Langley said she feels there’s a bright future for Willie Price’s garden.

“We are partnering with landscape services, which is awesome because we have the most beautiful campus in the country,” Langley said. “They’ve been coming over to help us and just do as much as they can to help us protect the space.”

Langley also partnered with the UM Office of Sustainability to obtain compost from the university’s compost program for the garden.

Before the installation of the garden, Willie Price students learned about nutritious food and healthy living in a two-week unit on health that concluded with planting seeds in the reopened garden.

The Willie Price Lab School is a preschool facility on the UM campus. It provides opportunities for Ole Miss students and faculty to provide services and conduct research.

About Emily Hoffman