The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

June 24, 2013

Garden of gifts: Woman's backyard harvest becomes teaching tool for students

ORONOGO, Mo. — On spring break, when her students are on beaches or visiting family back home, Becky Brannock starts planting. Into a garden plot on rural Oronogo soil freshly tilled by Jim, her husband of 30 years, she sows seeds for lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets and peas.

About the time her students are studying for their final exams the first of May, she plants zucchini, corn, beans and cucumbers.

Each summer, Brannock chooses to teach just one summer session instead of two so she can spend July harvesting and canning.

"I love to plant things and watch them grow," she said. "I suppose it's that way in both my garden and my classroom."

Planting students

Brannock, 53, is a professor in the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Pittsburg State University, and her students are among those who reap the fruits of her labor.

Next to the rows of other produce, she plants tomatoes, jalepe–os, bell peppers, onions and cilantro. After harvesting it at the end of each summer, just as students are gearing up to return to campus, the bounty goes into 24 to 36 jars of Brannock's homemade salsa.

"Then at the end of the semester, we talk about the diversity of students they'll one day work with," Brannock said. "To wrap up, we have a multicultural food day, and I ask each member of my class to bring a food representative of his or her ethnic or family background."

Her strawberries, blueberries and apple, plum and pear trees provide fruits she uses to make jams and jellies. Brannock uses jars of it as gifts for neighbors, fellow faculty members and guest speakers who agree to share expertise with her class.

The last row in her garden is reserved for growing zinnia flowers, also with the students in mind. About 120 students in her educational psychology classes are the recipients of seeds, which she distributes in envelopes filled from her coffee can cache.

"After they've bloomed, I save the deadheads and use those to distribute at the end of the semester to students," Brannock said. "I use the analogy that as future teachers and school counselors, we are planting seeds with our students for their futures. We may never be able to visually see the benefits of the harvest until many years later, if at all, but we continue to plant those seeds regardless to lead to better futures for all."

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