Garden Club gets jump on spring at Martin Elementary – Lancaster Newspapers

As Lancaster Countians tire of the cold, a student club is finding a cure for the winter doldrums by thinking forward and preparing for spring.


The after-school garden club at E.R. Martin Elementary School in Lancaster may not be able to go outside and dig in the dirt at this time of year, but on a recent Tuesday the club of more than 20 students gathered to get ready for the new beginnings of spring.

And this spring there will be many new beginnings for Martin students. Come April, students will be moving into a brand new school.

And the garden club members? They’re hoping to build a new vegetable garden and a new rain garden at the new facility.

“When we started construction for the new school we lost our garden,” kindergarten assistant and Garden Club teacher Sue Otthoffer said. “We’re supposed to move over in April. We’re very, very excited about it.”

At Tuesday’s club meeting, students made their excitement visible with colorful paintings of pollinators, as they decorated rocks and a brand new rain barrel for their soon-to-be garden.

Lydia Martin, a master gardener and educational specialist for the Lancaster County Conservancy, donated the rain barrel for the project Feb. 18. The activity, she said, was a way for students to take ownership of their future garden.

Before the activities, Martin also gave a short lesson on the importance of pollinators in producing the food that we eat. Her talk resulted in many colorful paintings of bugs and bees on rocks and the rain barrel.

Martin said she hopes that teaching gardening to youngsters will inspire a future generation of environmental stewards.

“I look at this as just a jumping point. A garden can do so much,” Martin said. “I think sometimes we don’t realize the importance of little things we do.”

Master gardener George DiIlio, who has been volunteering at the garden club each week for the past three years, said that students learn both the good and the difficult parts of gardening, from planting to weeding to harvesting.

“The kids who are exposed to the elements of gardening are those who will grow up to be gardeners as adults,” DiIlio said. “There are fertile minds in this gardening club.”

Cindy Harnish, the club’s founder and health room nurse at E.R. Martin, said she started the gardening club in 2007 during recess. After it was clear that there was overwhelming interest from students, Harnish began a more organized after-school club in 2008.

“We love gardening and we just wanted to share it with students,” Harnish said. “We just wanted them to be involved, to be out there producing and playing in the dirt. It’s just so much fun and we wanted to share our love.”

Although the painted rocks and rain barrel will go into storage until the club builds its new garden, the children’s warm smiles assured that a springtime thaw is just around the corner.

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