The co-op gardens at Valley Natural Foods signify more than just growing plants for food or flowers. They’re about using the gardens as nature’s classroom to teach. On field trip days at the co-op gardens, local second graders soon find out there are several types of talented teachers present in this outdoor classroom.

Students arrive accompanied by some of their own second grade teachers. Then, they’’re greeted by Midwest Food Connection (MFC) educators, who previously spent time teaching these kids about healthy food choices in their school classrooms. This organization partners with schools to bring natural foods and sustainable agriculture curriculum into the classroom. In the gardens, MFC staff highlight how various kinds of insects are beneficial for growing plants.

Next, the students meet the co-op’s own community relations developer, who is eager to teach them fascinating facts about soil. Alongside him are dedicated volunteers, either from MFC or actual gardeners from the co-op’s community gardens. Their roles include helping each child plant seeds in the garden and teaching them about what the seeds will need in order to grow. Volunteers also encourage students to try tasty herbs the kids get to harvest themselves.

Most importantly, students learn from nature itself through the co-op gardens. From soil to sprouting plants to buzzing bees to mature plants to beautiful sunshine, nature surrounds these students in colorful forms, teaching them how nature is perfectly balanced for enabling gardens to thrive.