In keeping with a national trend, nearly every school district in the region has put in a garden and mixed food into their curriculum.
Punch the term “edible schoolyards” into Google, and nearly 25,000 results appear. Scrolling through the first couple of pages, you’ll see news items announcing the planting of these educational gardens—raised beds for jungle gyms—in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, St. Petersburg, Durham, New Orleans and Berkeley. The Chez Panisse Foundation, the nonprofit founded by chef Alice Waters, created the original Berkeley, California, edible schoolyard, and they are widely credited with inventing the term. Beginning in 1995, Waters collaborated with the administration, teachers and community at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berke- ley and ultimately replaced a substantial swath of asphalt with a school garden. The idea was to incorporate the process of planting, growing and harvesting food into the school’s curriculum. Now, more than a decade later, the garden at the Martin Luther King Middle School is one acre in size, producing an abundant bounty of fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs.
This first edible schoolyard has motivated countless schools, nationwide. At the Web site farmtoschool.org, the organization Farm to School, a sort of national clearinghouse of schools working food into their curriculum and landscape, estimates 2,300 farm-to-school programs in the nation, and nearly 10,000 schools involved in some way.A number of East End districts are active participants in this growing movement. These schoolyard gardens require the help of many in the community: students, teachers, administrators, parents and non-parent community members. Fund-raisers, builders, electricians, landscapers, designers; all of these people help bring these programs to fruition. By working together toward the mutual goal of growing food, these schools have raised more than bountiful harvests of food. They have also raised their collective consciousness as a community. The food that they have grown nurtures their bodies. And the time spent working the earth together seems to have nurtured the soul of the community. The participants grow in body, mind and spirit as a result of planning and planting these gardens.
In honor of the first National Farm to School month this October, here are a few of the schools on the East End that have incorporated growing spaces—and food in its many forms—into their curriculum.
The Amagansett School has collaborated with Amber Waves Farm in what they call a “farm-to-fork partnership.” This is a program that runs throughout the school year as well as during the summer. During the 2010–2011 school year, sixth-grade students worked with Amber Waves as part of their service- learning curriculum. The students, under the direction of Amber Waves farmers Katie Baldwin and Amanda Merrow, planted a 3,200-square-foot garden. Crops included zucchini, cucumbers, popcorn, flowers and greens. Crops were grown from seed and donated to the Springs Food Pantry. The program encourages students to participate in all aspects of farming including planting, harvesting and cultivating as well as to establish an early and lifelong knowledge of land stewardship and healthy eating.
The Bridgehampton Edible School Project includes a 1,080-square- foot greenhouse. In addition, there is a garden with double that amount of growing space. This is all part of the Environmental Design Program in its fourth year at the school. The program includes classes in botany, fundamentals of gardening, intro to environmental design, and a nutrition and culinary arts practicum. This year, the greenhouse will be used as a classroom for the entire school (pre-K through 12th grade). A short-term goal is to supply the salad ingredients for the school cafeteria. Long-term goals include making the program sustainable by selling produce to lo- cal restaurants and the greater community. Built with generous grants and donations, teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz has seen a change in the school community with the greenhouse project. She believes that the greenhouse has been a great equalizer and that the collective health of the community has been positively affected as a result of working on this project together. As part of this ongoing project, the school hopes to educate students and families on the dangers of obesity and the health issues that accompany this national health crisis. Peppers, celery, Asian greens, spinach, mache, herbs and flowers are all growing in the Bridgehampton School garden.
EAST HAMPTON HIGH SCHOOL
Bonac Botanicals, the East Hampton High School sustainable garden project, has been in the planning stages for the past year. The intent is to have an outdoor hands-on learn- ing center. Ideas behind this project include connecting students to the natural world, involving them in the process of growing their own food and raising students’ awareness of their own wellness and their responsibility to the earth. Through the use of composting, rainwater collection and wind power, Bonac Botanicals has a long-term plan to be self-sustainable. Organic growing methods will be used to control pests and enrich the soil of the garden, which is expected to be about 3,000 square feet in size. Students will participate in all phases of the project, including constructing the gardens as well as planting and maintaining them. Classes that will participate in this project are AP environmental science and AP biology, methods in research, and living environment.
A MINIFARM SCHOOL
At the Green School, the red-and-white educational farmscape that Mari Linnman has created in Sagaponack, there has always been a vegetable garden where children can sow and harvest. But that’s just a small part of the package that teaches the pre-nursery set ecological living skills like recycling, creativity and care for animals, as well as giving back to the global community.
Naturally, the concept grew out of Linnman’s own interest in this sort of “right living.” On a recent day, her house, decorated with second-hand furniture and wood beams her parents salvaged in Sweden, smelled of the from-scratch pots of chicken and vegetable soup she was making to freeze for future meals. She recently froze some farm-stand broccoli for use in next month’s curriculum; students bake every Friday. A massive white tile stove heats the home and boosts Linnman’s water heater in winter.
When Linnman bought the land in 1998, just after she started the Art Farm summer camp in Bridgehampton, she did have the vision of a farm-based school, inspired by her upbringing in rural and uber-eco Sweden. The Art Farm itself, launched in 1995, was inspired by what Linnman saw as a lack of hands-on, outdoor learning opportunities. This alt camp now serves more than 500 families on the East End and several hundred more at a second campus in Manhattan.
At the Art Farm, each group of campers rotates preparing the snack for the entire camp, and the entire school bakes for a weekly bake sale that benefits an international sister charity, part of the “paying it forward” motif that Linnman encourages with regular community service activities for even the youngest kids.
Several years ago she opened the Green School to give a year- round home to this same approach, starting with two, three and four year olds.
Green School students practice habits of good “materials use,” reusing paper towel rolls and toilet-paper wrappers for art projects. Baked goods go home in reusable Mason jars. Parents are encouraged to bring scraps or keep their own compost. Linnman (shown above in the classroom, which adjoins a barn and corrals, opposite) hopes to teach good living as much as anything. “It’s not a topic that is brought up that often.” The children each have their own tea towel for drying hands, hung neatly in the bathroom next to a passport- size picture of each student. Students separate their lunch waste into bins labeled for each group of animals. They “will know that Jackson and Barney,” the two resident pigs, “love banana peels as a treat.”
The school’s menagerie includes sheep, goats, chickens, horses, donkeys, ponies, pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs. Guided by the school’s resident farmer, children learn gentleness and patience from daily animal care.
An annual fall apple-picking trip to Seven Ponds Orchard in Southampton delivers the full farm-to-table experience as children pick apples and then bring them back to the school to turn into applesauce, apple crumb cake and whole-wheat apple muffins. And ultimately the teachers spend a certain share of time outdoors. “Education is there if you want to find it,” she says, paraphrasing John and Yoko. Linnman sees this sort of education as readily available on the East End.
The Green School now counts 24 families—full capacity for the small campus that Linnman sees as a model to replicate at schools in the region or around the country. The minimum requirement, she says, would be to have chickens, “the greenest animal,” since they eat scraps and they are “so easy to take care of.” “For God’s sake, today children think chicken comes from King Kullen. We have gotten so far removed from the farm and how farm life works.”
Although Linnman admits it’s hard for schools to be green, “because the system isn’t green,” she does believe “this is our moment”: schools installing solar panels and gardens aren’t as rare as they were even a few years ago. “This is needed for the whole country,” she says. “It’s a very positive thing for our healthcare system, for our energy use, for our climate and all our lives, for the country to become more green.” -Brian Halweil
HAMPTON BAYS SCHOOL
At the Hampton Bays Middle School, the Good Ground Community Garden is unique compared to the other area school gardens. For a fee of $25 a year, community members can purchase a 4-by-10-foot growing space. The students help maintain these plots and are also responsible for the design, planting and maintenance of the perimeter of the garden Some of the crops grown are tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, herbs and melons. Teacher Joan Moran who runs the garden program hopes that some of the harvest will be used in the school cafeteria during the 2011–2012 school year. The goal of this program is to provide a hands-on gardening opportunity for children and adults, encouraging all of the participants to cook more with the foods they are growing.
The East End Edible Schoolyard at the Hayground School began 12 years ago. The late Jeff Salaway (restaurateur and founding parent of the school) had a dream of the entire school sharing a meal from the school garden. Since Salaway’s death, the school community has upheld his dream and turned it into a bountiful reality. The growing space includes two gardens, one greenhouse and a chicken coop. The students are currently researching and designing a medicinal plant garden, and a second greenhouse is being built. The school cafeteria is supplied with produce on a daily basis, and contributions from the garden are also being made to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry. Artichokes, purslane, edible flowers, collard greens, edamame and a variety of culinary and medici- nal herbs are among the items grown here. The students also maintain a stand at the Hayground Farmers Market, held on Fridays during the summer, selling seedlings and prepared foods like garlic-scape pesto and baba ghanoush.
The Ross School edible schoolyard, the Golden Ratio Garden, is currently in the planning stages. A planned growing space of 50-by- 90 feet is in the works with a goal of integrating many classes into this garden-as-learning-space: art, science, wellness and cultural history. The produce will reflect global and historical varieties of plants. Harvests will include herbs and flowers for the café and will be used in cultural history lessons. Students have been working on the design and planning of this garden for the past year with a goal of having the garden up and running in the near future. The hope of this project is to instill a greater sense of awareness of the environment, nature and the cycles of life in the participants.
SAG HARBOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
The Sag Harbor Elementary School is home to the Greenhouse Project. The garden was started three years ago, and the greenhouse has been in operation for one year. The approximate size of the growing space is a garden with nine 3-by-20-foot raised beds, as well as a gar- den that measures 3-by-80 feet. All students at the school (K–12) participate in the greenhouse program. While the school does not have a cafeteria, the students do taste-testing, and the remainder of the harvest is donated to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry. Some of the vegetables grown include potatoes, onions, beets, tomatoes, radishes and lettuce. Science teacher Kryn Olson runs the program; one ob- servation she has made of students involved in the program is that they slow down a bit in their greenhouse work. She witnesses a lot of energy in the greenhouse, but it is not the frenetic energy of the typical Internet–cell phone–texting student. She sees a quietness come over the students here; conversations are hushed as new discoveries are made. Looking forward, Ms. Olson plans to invite local growers in to speak with the students about growing a variety of crops.
SOUTHAMPTON UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Southampton School’s organic garden was started in April 2010. The garden is approximately 112-by-25 feet in size. Currently, gar- den club members and students in the food prep classes (ages 14–18) are participating in the planning and maintenance of the garden. The produce is used in the high school cafeteria with a goal of in- creasing the yield in order to provide produce to the elementary and middle school as well. Heirloom tomatoes, three varieties of carrots, broccoli and tomatillos are some of the items grown. The students also planted asparagus, although it will be two more years before they harvest any. A representative from the Cornell Cooperative visited the school and gave the students a demonstration on canning tomatoes and freezing produce for later use. Two of the goals of this schoolyard garden are to provide a hands-on learning experience for students as well as encourage a more sustainable way of living.
In 2008, two parents of students at the Springs School in East Hampton launched the idea of an edible schoolyard. Out of this idea sprouted the Project MOST Seedlings project. Through privately raised donations, enough money was raised to build a green- house with 10 beds. Additionally, there is now a 40-by-60-foot garden complete with deer fencing. The greenhouse was assembled by volunteer labor offered by community members; community service students and parent volunteers maintain the garden and greenhouse. In September 2009, the building of the greenhouse was completed and became part of the classroom experience for kindergarten through sixth-grade students in their science and health classes. The list of produce grown includes broccoli, peas, lettuces, tomatoes, spinach, cucumber, beets, kale, Swiss chard and sprouts. In addition, there is an herb garden producing pars- ley, cilantro, chives, sage, oregano and garlic. The harvested produce is used for culinary projects during the school year. Moreover, the Project MOST afterschool program offers a garden club to students and in summer 2011 launched the Seedlings Summer Learning Program.
At the Tuckahoe Common School, the Stony Brook Community Roots program was started with a grant from Stony Brook University. Matt Doris (head of the school’s food services department) has maintained and worked on the garden since it was planted in the spring of 2010. The food produced is incorporated into the school lunches provided in the cafeteria. Raspberries, kale, chard, cilantro and green beans are a partial list of what is grown. Maximizing the yield of the available space is a major intent here; one example of this idea in action is the beans growing up bamboo poles along the perimeter of the garden. Approximately 20 percent of the pro- duce goes toward the lunch program with the remaining 80 percent donated to local families who meet certain economic criteria. One of the goals of this school garden is to teach sustainable practices and connect the students (ages 5 to 13 years old) to the land where their food is grown.
Teacher Dorry Silvey launched the idea of the Wainscott School Garden in 2008. The garden is comprised of four raised garden beds measuring four-by-four-feet each. The children working in the garden range from age five to nine years old. Science, health, reading and math classes have all integrated the use of the garden into their curriculums. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, parsley and basil are grown pesticide-free here. While the school does not have a cafeteria, the students eat produce from the garden to supplement snack time and their own lunches. A particularly lovely part of this edible schoolyard is the growing area dedicated to sun- flowers, lavender, butterfly bushes and milkweed. These plants allow students to study insect and bird life. For instance, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed plant. So in the Wainscott edible schoolyard garden, student gardeners are learning about growing their own food as well as habitats and life cycles of insects and birds. The goal of the garden is to teach these students from a very young age about the food chain.