Thornton said the botany garden idea started in the fall semester of 2010 with a single class and two 5-foot-by-16-foot raised beds filled with composted horse manure. All funds and equipment were donated by students, parents, and teachers, as well as private enterprises such as Seahorse Farms and Babb Lumber. Crops of choice were cool-weather selections that could be planted and harvested within a three-month window of time such as radishes, mus-tard, turnips, lettuces, carrots and spinach.
Encouraged by that first success, a second class was added and an expansion was implemented in the spring of 2011. Unfortunately, as the crops readied in late April and the seniors prepared to graduate, a tornado struck the area, leaving the gardens strewn with debris. Belfor, the restoration company, then scraped up what remained of the garden during clean-up efforts.
Undeterred, the class started from scratch in the fall and enjoyed a successful harvest of veggies “eaten with plenty of ranch,” said Thornton, his secret to getting teenagers to eat radishes. They also made plans to build addi-tional gardens and start fruit trees and blueberries.
For the 2012 spring semester, a third class was added, but their efforts were abruptly halted by rebuilding plans for the new tennis courts for the Ringgold school facilities, forcing them to move their gardens. The classes relo-cated their four raised beds to a location promised to be free of man-made interference for at least three years. Thornton said crops are growing well, but students have to haul water from Tiger Creek, about 150 yards and a steep climb away.
“We have been in real need of irrigation equipment for this third garden,” said Thornton, “and had no funds with which to purchase it. A student in our class, Mark Gray, put us in touch with his aunt, who is a member of GAE and she helped procure the grant.” Thornton said the botany garden can now purchase everything “from shovels and chicken wire to potting soil and fig trees.”
“The students and I would like to thank the generous people at GAE for this grant,” Thornton said. “It means the classes will be able to take their work farther. Allowing students the opportunity to grow their food from ‘seeds to supper’ seems very fundamental, but many of us have never seen where our food comes from. Since they’ve been able to nurture plant life to a meaningful end, these kids are more interested and serious about how these gardens should be set up and cared for and this grant gives them the opportunity to help them progress.”