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Ladybugs good, aphids bad

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Kindergarteners learn about vegetable growing

By Michel Northsea

NOTE: See slide show below

Julia chose tomato seeds and Victoria went for the green beans.

Heeding the warning about cold weather, TyNesha passed on the tomatoes and green beans, opting to plant lettuce. Besides, she likes lettuce in a salad and on her hamburger, she said.

The Hammett Bowen Elementary School kindergarten students gained some first-hand experience on growing their own food during a special presentation by Rachelle Roper of Feed the Need Garden, Inc., last week.

Roper started the non-profit in 2010 to help teach people to grow their own food so no one in Marion County would have to go hungry.

Growing up in the small town of Okahumpka, she was raised in a family that lived off the land.

“We grew up gardening and growing our own meat,” Roper said. She was active in local 4-H chapters and went on the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Science where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2001.  Jobs that followed include working as a cattle processing foreman and in sales selling animal health care products.

She married and then came parenthood. Wanting more time for family she opened a Christian bookstore in Ocala and it was there the idea for the Feed the Need Garden Inc, grew.
“People would tell me they had lost their job and they didn’t know how they were going to feed their families,” she said.

Hearing those concerns, Roper would think of her own childhood and suggest to her visitors they grow their own food.

Roper came to realize most people didn’t know how to go about starting a garden. She offered to teach gardening.  It wasn’t long before she ran out of room at her store.

She later closed the store to focus on teaching others to garden so they will never experience hunger.

Now she teaches hands on classes at several churches and talks to various organizations and groups throughout the county. She recently talked to the On Top of the World residents about container gardening. Classes include gardening, food preservation, and raising livestock.

“By offering hands-on education classes we’re not just giving a hand-out but a hand-up,” she said.

Besides saving money at the grocery store, she suggests having a garden makes for eating healthier.

The subject of bugs came up during her discussion with the kindergarten students. One little boy explained how a caterpillar had kept him planting any seeds from other day. His comment sparked a comment from a little girl who said she liked ladybugs.

It turns out ladybugs are good for the garden, Roper said, because they eat the aphids which aren’t so good for a garden. Several youngsters picked up on the word “aphids” as a cool new word.

Roper has also developed a website that explains her program and offers gardening tips- with ways to get rid of aphids - as well. Her website is feedtheneedgarden.com.