Gardens blooming in local schools

ADDISON COUNTY — The Mount Abraham Union High School garden began its first year at about 600 square feet. Now, as it wraps up its second year, the garden has doubled in size.
Mount Abe is just one of many schools in the county that have been taking the first steps toward incorporating more local food and nutrition education into their curriculums, in some cases bringing academic studies a little closer to technical agricultural programs.
So far, the Bristol garden has primarily been the effort of one elective class led by science teacher Caroline Camara and Ripton resident (formerly of Bridport) Walter O’Donohue.
Though his training is in landscape gardening, O’Donohue got involved with the Mount Abe vegetable garden out of his strong interest in local foods. He’s seen the garden through two summers when there were only a few people helping out, including senior Kensey Hanson.
For all the students involved, he said, it’s been an experiment in planning and responsibility.
“They lay out a diagram and design for the garden,” said O’Donohue. “They look up the culture of the plant, how much space (it needs).”
The Mount Abe students’ planning and planting in their garden has paid off, according to Kathy Alexander, the new foodservice coordinator for Mount Abe, Bristol Elementary School and Monkton Central School. She has been putting the harvest to work in the schools’ meals.
So far this year, 438 pounds of produce from the garden have gone into school meals, and she expects that number to rise to 600 pounds by the end of the harvest season.
Meanwhile, in Middlebury, Steve Colangeli said Middlebury Union High School may build a greenhouse in the coming years to bolster its food and nutrition programs. Colangeli, a new teacher at the alternative education program at MUHS, said he hopes that momentum will develop into a garden that the whole high school can use and benefit from.
Colangeli came to MUHS after giving a presentation last winter on his work at U-32 High School in Montpelier, where he ran a commercial greenhouse that students took care of as part of an elective class.
Beyond the science aspect, Colangeli had the classes track labor and resource inputs, and calculate the price of growing each plant. He said that when the students sold the produce to the cafeteria for a profit, they saw the literal payoff for their work.
“We hear about the dairy farms that are going under,” said Colangeli. “But (these kids) were making a profit. I want students to realize that it can be a viable option.”
For Willowell Foundation Executive Director David Schein the progression that schools have made from hands on learning to local food production has been a natural one. Willowell’s Walden Project is an environmental education program for Vergennes Union High School students that integrates its half-acre garden into many aspects of the curricula, not just science.
Students in all of these programs are getting a firsthand look at the growing local foods movement. For the Walden Project, said Schein, the movement toward agriculture and local eating is only to be expected.
“Kids from (VUHS) who are part of that project have been growing their own lunches for about eight years,” he said. “The world has caught up with us.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].
Summer break…so what happens to the garden?
ADDISON COUNTY — The school calendar developed so that students could stay home during the peak summer months and help out in the fields.
Today, this creates difficulties for many school gardens, which have the most educational potential when students are out of school, during the summer. Garden organizers have had to find creative solutions to these problems.
Ripton resident Nola Kevra has run the Ripton Elementary School garden since 1994. She said the garden is a community effort, especially during the summer. During that time, community volunteers come out to help, and Kevra said all Ripton residents are welcome to swing by and take some produce in return for a little help in the garden.
The Ferrisburgh Central School garden, which former school food coordinator Kathy Alexander said has been up and running for about nine years, has developed another volunteer solution to the summer problem — parents of students at the school sign up to tend the garden for one week at a time.
Alexander said this has worked well — the garden has 28 raised beds, and in recent years the squash bed produced more than 500 pounds for use in the school’s lunch programs.
And Lynn Coale, director of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, said he plans to have students build “hoophouses,” a kind of shelter, for elementary school gardens in order to lengthen their growing seasons.
Even with the difficulties, Kevra said the Ripton garden, at least, has been educational for the students, even considering the difficulty of tending the garden in the summer.
“What we haven’t accomplished in terms of megatons of food, we’ve certainly accomplished in getting (the students) closer to where their foods come from,” she said.

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