A new learning garden at King Elementary School in Van Buren that will help students learn about healthy living and food sources was inaugurated on Wednesday.

Van Buren School District educators, students, Mayor Bob Freeman and representatives from Harps, Dole Packaged Foods, and Captain Planet Foundation - which partnered to provide the grant - took part in the inauguration, which involved speeches, a lettuce harvest and salad preparation.

“We believe the health and physical well being of our students is directly related to their academic success,” said Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat. “There’s so many things (students) learn in school and this is a vital component.”

King Elementary School won the grant by applying to the Captain Planet Foundation Learning Garden Grant contest conducted at Harps in the fall of 2016.

Included in the grant was five raised garden beds, soil, a cooking cart with supplies that can go from class to class, three lesson plans for each grade and training for 12 teachers at Tate and King elementary schools.

During Wednesday’s event, elementary students enjoyed a salad they made on site after harvesting, washing and shredding lettuce growing in one of the school’s gardens. The salad was served with a vinaigrette made by the students using the cooking cart.

Mary Grace Stoneking, a food educator with FoodCorps Services who partners with the VBSD, applied for the grant.

“I really loved that the grant had the training aspect, because I felt teachers wanted to go to the gardens and they wanted to cook in the classroom, they just didn’t have the training or knowledge,” Stoneking said.

Jeffcoat gave credit to Drew Cone, VBSD activities administrator, for spearheading the district’s healthy lifestyle programs and said the Learning Garden grant helps advance those initiatives.

“It’s so exciting to see the change in the students and their willingness to participate,” Jeffcoat said.

Multiple grants and donations have helped pay for the school’s learning gardens and amenities. Van Buren schools have received about $130,000 in grants for similar programs, Jeffcoat said.

Lowe’s, Parks Brothers Greenhouses, MAHG Architecture, Nabholtz Construction, Turf-Pro USA and numerous other area businesses have helped with construction of beds, greenhouse and a pergola, and donations of garden necessities and money.

Also, the Van Buren School District Education Foundation has provided green programs with about $9,800 in grants during the past two years, said Debbie Thomas, Van Buren School District Education Foundation director.

“Without grants like this we wouldn’t be standing here; we wouldn’t have a garden,” said King Elementary Principal Renee Risley.