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Berkley man helps get students interested in plants, vegetables with garden clubs

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published March 12, 2015

 Fourth-grader Alex Koral places a popsicle stick with his name on it in soil.

Fourth-grader Alex Koral places a popsicle stick with his name on it in soil.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Stilger

BERKLEY — When Berkley resident Doug Deeds took over the greenhouse at Berkley High School last spring, he was adamant about fixing up the little room and getting the BHS Garden Club to help him run it.

This year, Deeds isn’t stopping with just working with the high school students.

This spring, Deeds will be working with students from Angell Elementary School, Norup International School and Anderson Middle School, giving the kids at those schools a chance to plant flowers and plants with the hope that they continue the hobby when they are eligible for the BHS Garden Club.

“I like to see the kids plant the seeds and then when they see it sprout, the kids are like, ‘Wow, I grew that,’” Deeds, 68, said. “That is kind of a thrill, and they get to put their names on a popsicle stick and we will see who the best planter is. I am just trying to turn the city into an ongoing green project, and the kids can learn from it.”

Previously, Deeds had worked with students at Our Lady of La Salette School before the school closed at the end of the 2012-13 school year. There, Deeds helped the staff and students plant a garden and donate food they grew to local charities.

With the elementary and middle school students, Deeds is starting smaller. He already has helped the students plant petunia seeds in planters. Next, he will be helping the students plant tomatoes, with each student able to take some home and donate some to charity.

Besides planting the seed for a future in gardening, Deeds said that creating these garden clubs also helps educate the students about the variety of plants and vegetables.

“I showed the kids turnips and they didn’t know what they were,” Deeds said. “My generation, we know what most of these things that are grown are, but I asked them about kale and they didn’t know what it was.

“If I get these kids started early enough, by the time they get to high school, I might have 50-100 kids in the garden club. This is just something they don’t teach nowadays, as people can just go out now and buy what they want to buy.”

Between all four schools he is working in, Deeds has ordered more than 2,500 petunia seeds and has received donated tomato seeds. Deeds has received help from Home Depot, which donated about $300 in equipment.

Emily Burns, a fourth-grade teacher at Angell, has had Deeds come to her classroom for the past two years and help introduce the concept of gardening to her students.

Watching her students last year and this year, Burns said it is great to see them get excited about growing their own vegetables, and she hopes it is something that can continue.

“I think this gives them some background and gets them excited about watching the plants grow and how they start as a little seed and turn into plants,” she said. “In fact, I had a couple of fifth-graders come and get excited to see Mr. Doug around, and they remembered him. (Deeds) tries to get out there and build a bond with the kids, and I think it helps get the kids interested.”

In their studies, Burns said, her students learn a great deal about the life cycle of animals, so the garden club not only allows them to see the plant side of the life cycle, but also gives them a hands-on activity to truly grasp the concept.

“We do have a life cycle part of our curriculum, but it focuses more on metamorphosis,” she said. “But Doug is really passionate about the gardening, and this is more for the experience. The kids get a hands-on experience and that love of gardening and being outside and growing your own stuff. We really focus on the community aspect of gardening.”

It is the community that Deeds wants to help beautify as he petitions to help plant flowers in the downtown district. While it takes a lot of work to help four schools, Deeds said it is worth it.

“You can’t start early enough; that’s what I think,” Deeds said. “I am just trying to make the city of Berkley better looking, more appealing. It has turned into a full-time job and I am retired.”