CHARLOTTESVILLE—As spring inches closer on the calendar, gardeners are not the only ones thinking about digging in the dirt. Many teachers are planning their schools’ spring gardens. School garden programs have been in place for decades across the Old Dominion, including those created with assistance from the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom program and the National Farm to School Program. Charlottesville has its own City Schoolyard Garden. And schools nationwide can participate in the First Peas to the Table contest, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and based on a 2012 children’s book of the same name by Susan Grigsby. The contest will run through May 15. Students from kindergarten to fifth grade may plant up to 20 pea plants in any manner, but they must be either garden shelling peas or English peas. The class with the greatest amount of peas after shelling will win a visit from 2017 Miss America Savvy Shields. “Getting their hands dirty is the best way for children to learn,” said Julia Recko, AFBFA education outreach director. “Through this contest we’re pleased to provide a wealth of fun, hands-on learning opportunities for students across the country.” Research has found that when school gardens are cultivated into student curricula, academic achievement increases and student behavior improves, noted Tammy Maxey, Virginia AITC senior education manager. “Studies by both Michigan State University and North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension confirm what we know from experience—that many students learn better through hands-on methods, and that gardening can bring any classroom curriculum to life,” Maxey said. Virginia AITC is celebrating 25 years of working with teachers to educate Virginia schoolchildren about the importance of agriculture. Its how-to guide Jump Start Your School Garden is available at agintheclass.org/Teachers/LessonPlans.aspx. More information about the First Peas to the Table contest can be found at agfoundation.org/projects/first-peas-contest-2017. Media: Contact Maxey at 804-290-1143 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.