Garden Lifestyle

Kids and Herbs

Last week, we traveled to Jonesboro, Arkansas to the Health and Wellness Elementary School to cook with the kids there.

Third grade class with teachers Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox and Master Gardener Elizabeth, in the kitchen of Health and Wellness Elementary School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Amy Brand Crain

This story has to do with herbal networking at its best. It starts with our friend, colleague and professional seedswoman, Renee Shepherd, who lives in Felton, California. When I read about Renee Shepherd ( sponsoring an elementary school in Joneboro, Arkansas–and knew I was going to be spending about a month here in Arkansas with some time in between events–I thought it might be a good idea to go there and visit. I had read on Jim Long’s blog (, another long-time herbal friend and author, who has a delightful herb farm in Blue Eye, Missouri, that he had been there to make salsa with the kids, so I contacted Melinda Smith to see if she’d be interested in another herbal program with the kids.

So we made a plan to go there last Thursday, and since it was a little farther than we had thought (3 hours in each direction), we contacted another herbal acquaintance, Amy Swann of Mill Creek Herbs in Pochahontas (, and asked if we might come there on Wednesday evening and stay over, so we’d only be about 45 minutes away the next morning. It was dark when we got there and Amy and her husband had unloaded a tractor trailer load of plants for their nursery that day, however she still made us a skillet full of yummy wild rice, veggies and tofu, for which we were very thankful.

We stayed up late to prepare an herbal syrup with the lemon thyme and lemon balm that we had harvested and brought along, and to this we added some gingerroot for zing and honey for sweetener. The plan was to show the children how to make a natural soda–with the cooled syrup, ice and sparkling water. We also brought herbs for making a cream cheese that they could taste on crackers and celery.

When Tina Marie Wilcox and I arrived at Health and Wellness Elementary School, we were met by Melinda Smith who is in charge of the kids’ gardens and kitchen laboratory there, as well as a number of other jolly staff members. Melinda gave us a tour of the children’s gardens, which are located in the courtyards in between buildings. The gardens are in raised beds–many of them were planted and showing green–and there are many concrete tables for the children to sit outdoors, and two small greenhouses, which were chockablock full with plants for their upcoming plant sale this weekend. All of this is hands on work done by the students. We met Amy Crain, who assists Melinda in the growing and cooking projects, not to mention the great crafts they create, and Amy took a number of the photos I have included in this article.

The students sow the seedlings, work the beds, create stepping stones, decorate pots and plant them, and make garden stools. They have 3 chickens–Minerva and silkies Fred and Ethel, a rabbit named Oreo, and numerous indoor creatures from lizards, a snake, a chinchilla and tarantula. Classrooms, hallways and the library are all bright and colorful spaces with items prepared by little hands in evidence everywhere.

Of course, the kitchen laboratory was my favorite place. It had small stainless tables for students to work at, and the sinks were at little kid level. The walls were adorned with paintings of bright fruits and vegetables, black-and white- striped awnings, and a multitude of small aprons. We placed little blue and lime green cutting boards and paring knives at each place and there were mini vases of herbs on each table. Besides Melinda and Amy, we had two other adult assistants, Neva and Elizabeth, both Master Gardener volunteers from the community.

The kids were abuzz with excitement, when they spilled into the kitchen classroom. We talked about kitchen safety with knives and then moved on to the business of herbs. We passed around oregano, parsley, fennel, which were going to be used in making our herb cream cheese along with garlic (/item/9202/cream-cheese-with-herbes-de-provence-and-garlic); and we passed lemon thyme and lemon balm, which was used in our herbal syrup. We rubbed and smelled and tasted the herbs. And then we stemmed the herbs and chopped them. Everyone got to use the garlic presses and or the garlic grinders, and I took the mezzaluna around and demonstrated how to use it, so each child could have a turn with my favorite kitchen tool. The students stirred the cream cheese and herbs and then we got to spread them on crackers. Meanwhile we explained and demo’ed how we made the herb syrup with the herbs and gingerroot coins. We combined the syrup with the sparkling water and served it over ice, first toasting to good food and healthy food. Tina Marie finished the class with a song accompanied with her guitar.

I sure hope the kids had as much fun as we did. HWES is a great place, where learning is fun and hands-on. We hope to return there again. All of this was made possible by herbs–herbal networking from coast to coast–California and Maryland to down in the Arkansas! Thank you Health and Wellness Elementary School students and staff–y’all rock!

Be sure to check out our next exciting event at the Ozark Folk Center–the Medicinal Herb Seminar–April 5 and 6, 2013! (

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