CASA GRANDE — Myles Brown, 11, had never eaten a beet before last week, when he and his classmates harvested a crop from their garden at Casa Grande Middle School.

“Beets aren’t that bad if you put a lot of sugar on them,” said the sixth-grader, who was one of 29 CGMS students selling freshly harvested beets, kale, cauliflower and cabbage in the school parking lot Tuesday afternoon.

The veggies were grown in the school garden in a hands-on class that teaches students the basics of gardening, from sowing seeds and planting to harvesting and making money.

“We teach the business end of agriculture and agribusiness as well as the things the students need to know to grow a garden,” said CGMS teacher Michael Cruz.

The school’s Junior Master Gardening Club covers the necessity of having good soil, how to correct soil composition, the impact of insects and disease, and gives students a better understanding of ecology and how humans impact the environment.

“At the end of the course, students are junior master gardeners,” Cruz said.

The class is for students in sixth through eighth grade and is taught in cooperation with the University of Arizona.

Students in the program are required to get their hands dirty. They work in the garden both during class hours and in the after-school gardening club digging, tilling, planting, lifting and harvesting.

The class’ fall garden was planted in September and harvested this month. The students held a mini farmers market to sell their crops. Turnips and beets sold for $1 a bunch. Kale and cabbage had a price tag of $2.

“We sold more than half our crop,” Cruz said.

Having the students sell the crops gives them industry experience and teaches them about agribusiness and marketing, Cruz said.

What wasn’t sold to the public during the farmers market will be sold to teachers or students or donated.

Casa Grande Middle School’s quarter-acre plot is the largest school garden in Pinal County, Cruz said. It’s divided into four quads to accommodate four crops each season.

With the fall harvest complete and the veggies sold, the students will soon begin preparing the plot for its spring growing season and planting corn and other warm weather veggies.

Sixth-grader Veronica Valdovinos, 12, had never worked in a garden before enrolling in the class. In the past few months, she said she’s learned a lot.

“I want to start my own garden at home,” she said.

Community volunteers with an expertise in gardening are needed to help with the garden, Cruz said.

Those who would like to help may contact Cruz at 836-7310.

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