Garden of Goodness

by Chadd McGlone

Chapel Hill, NC, United States

Many people in Central America still grow the food they eat in small family gardens — corn, papaya, bananas, rambutan, chili peppers, and lots more. They use what they harvest for family meals and keep the rest to sell at the weekly market.


During market day, businesses shut down and local roads close for natives from nearby villages to sell surplus goods in temporary booths. Each village hosts the market on a different day of the week, so that people can do their shopping without missing their own local market.


In the Guatemalan mountain village of Santa Avelina, gardens are typically planted on the corner of the family property, often next to the kitchen building. The cooking takes place in a separate location because these Mayan descendants still cook over open fires or on a wood-burning cooktop. These gardens do not have fences because they are protected by family members and their dogs, pigs, and roosters.


Herbs get a slightly different treatment. A woven spiked fence surrounds every herb garden, protecting them from the same pigs and chickens that guard the other crops.


These gardens offer good opportunities to use math in a real-world setting. Suppose you have constructed a fence that is 48 fists lengths (FL) long. Naturally, you want to have the largest opening possible for the gate. What dimensions should your opening be?


Do you have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!

Math Questions

  1. Find the dimensions of at least 8 different family gardens, each with a perimeter of 48 FL.
  2. Find the areas of the gardens. Make a table to compare the width, length, and area of each one. It’s okay to have widths that are greater than their corresponding lengths.

Write your own math question and submit it here

Extension Question

 With better health care in Santa Avelina, the population is increasing. Since land to grow more food isn’t available, residents sometimes must leave for the city in order to feed their families. What possible solutions (such as genetically modified crops) would you offer to this situation?

Write your own extension question and submit it here

Lesson Download

Lesson Plan for Multiplication and Division (3rd grade) by Matthew Perlanski, Raleigh, NC – Download


  1. Wikipedia page on Maya medicine, including the medicinal use of herbs
  2. Pictures of flowers and plants in Antigua, Guatemala
  3. Website for basic information on raising chickens
  4. WikiHow page on growing your own food
  5. News clip on a school’s garden (accompanies lesson plan in Downloads section)

Find a resource that you think is helpful and submit it here

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