Corn in the Classroom

Crop production

Notes to broadcasters

Today I’m going to tell you a story about a school garden. This story is not just about farming. And it’s not a story just for farmers. If you are a teacher, you may get some ideas to use with your students. If you are a parent, your child could benefit from the experience of schoolchildren in Jamaica.

Children learn by doing. This is the motto of the Sligoville All Ages School in rural Jamaica. The school principal, Claudette Power, believes students learn best through projects. That is why she encouraged the students and teachers to plant a school garden. The children gain skills they can use in their community. The teachers find new ways to teach by including lessons learned in the garden. And everyone gets some great, nutritious food!

Sligoville is a hillside community in central Jamaica. Rich loam soil is abundant here. Farming is a way of life for many people.

The Sligoville School rests on a crest of land above the town. A topic board near the front door announces all the food production projects at the school. All of the projects center around their school garden. The school week starts with garden talk. The principal talks about farming ideas. The teachers build lessons around these discussions.


In the classroom

In the classroom, the students learn about a different crop each year, through many different activities. This year they are studying corn. The teachers match one school subject with the study of corn. For example, the grade one students study corn in their music class. They sing and compose songs about corn and food for their families. The grade two students make art and crafts with corn. They make corn husk dolls and musical instruments. The grade five students study the vocabulary of imports and exports. They learn the uses and tenses of words related to the farming industry such as grow, plant, market and salary. And they write poems and letters about growing corn. Students from grades six to nine study corn in their science class. They look at different corn pests such as the corn earworm (Heliothis zea) or the corn root aphid. Then they study pest populations and learn ways to decrease the number of pests in the garden.

In the garden

All the children work in the garden. Each grade manages a small plot with a few crops such as carrots, corn and thyme. The younger children plant crops along the side of the school. The older children plant a large garden on about one acre of school land. This year they planted root crops including beets, carrots, yams and turnips. They grow corn, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, cabbage and cho-cho (Secium edule) down the centre of the garden. Neat rows of plantain, banana and cocoa are planted at the back of the garden.

The garden is completely organic. This means that the children do not use any chemical pesticides on their crops. They have found other ways to manage pests. They learned that some herbs and flowers planted in the garden help to control pests. For example, they learned that a type of marigold controls tiny soil worms called nematodes. Nematodes attack the roots of many plants. So, the children have grown marigolds around many of their crops. They also make their own safe pesticides. They planted neem trees at the front of the garden. The leaves and seeds of neem can be used to make a pest control spray. They grow mint, thyme and basil to control pests, too. The strong odours of these plants help to repel some pests.

All the children learn how to make compost. They use compost to fertilize their crops. Throughout the year, they gather materials for the compost from their homes, the school and surrounding villages. These include fruit and vegetable scraps, animal manure, leaves and grass. They collect rat and bat manure from nearby caves. They bring cattle and chicken manure from their homes. They use rabbit droppings from rabbits they are raising in a cage behind the school.

The school compost is divided into two piles, separated by a bamboo fence. The children transfer materials from one side to the other two to three times a week. This way, the new material gets stirred often. They cover the compost with a black garbage bag to protect it from the rain and sun. This helps keep the compost moist, but not too wet.

The children also raise seedlings in a plant nursery behind the school. They use their empty drink boxes as containers. This way, they are recycling their drink boxes, instead of throwing them away. They give some of these young plants to other schools in the area so that they can start their own school gardens.

The success of the garden

Many people contribute to make the garden a success. Parents, past students and other people in the community donate seeds, cuttings and plants. Two community members are paid to take care of some of the more difficult garden tasks. The children learn about organic gardening, recycling and the history of farming at the village environmental education centre in town. Other people give free advice and volunteer their time throughout the year.

The harvest is a time for celebration. The children eat a lot of the food they grow. Some of it is used in meals at the school canteen. Some children take fruits and vegetables home to their families. The school also sells some food to the community.

The garden is a real winner. It has taken first place in the national school garden competition every year since it started. The children are very proud of it. Now, it will serve as a model garden for other schools to visit and learn about organic farming.

You too can use this school in Jamaica as a model to start your own school garden in your community.



  • This script was written by Belinda Bruce, Assistant Editor at Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, Toronto, Canada. It is based on interviews with staff, students and community members involved in the Sligoville All Ages School organic garden, and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Annie Gorski, Sligoville, Jamaica.