Vegetable seed packs were ripped open as a crowd of small hands stretched out to grab handfuls to scatter into their planters. Third-graders at North Heights Elementary chatted excitedly as they worked on future harvests in a small garden behind the Rome school.

“It’s trying to get them to experiment with vegetables and eat better,” said Ashlyn Ritch, a teacher who coordinated sorting the seeds and soil among the young gardeners.

With a basket full of freshly picked vegetables on one arm, Brayan Lopez searched over the tangle of vines alongside classmates for more ripe rewards.

“I wanted to pick all the fruits!” said Brayan.

The gardening project is in its second year at the school. Ritch explained that for many students, they’re learning important lessons about where some of their favorite foods come from.

“For example, they think pickles grow,” said Ritch with a laugh.

Various vegetables including chard, collards, broccoli, beans and sugar peas went into planters as students spread out around the garden.

Ritch said the students have responded favorably to the project so far and have even become protective of their little garden.

“They really are excited about it. They really get into it,” she said. “Plus, for them, it’s a great way to do science because we’re going to get to measure the data and we’re going to watch the growth.”