Summer volunteers tend school gardens

ADDISON COUNTY –– Many Addison County schools have gardens that supply food to their lunch programs and teach students about agriculture during the academic year.
However, over the summer vacation, when these gardens need the most care, students are at home.
Three local schools — Ferrisburgh Central School, Lincoln Community School and Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center — have figured out how to address this issue, with solutions ranging from committees to parent involvement to partnering with youth day camps.
Faced with the prospect of maintaining a 2,100-square-foot garden, Ferrisburgh Central has turned to parent volunteers for assistance, explained FCS teacher Judy Elson.
“We get a great amount of support in the summertime with people helping out,” Elson said. “They get to sign up for a week in the summer and two families are on per week. It has successfully worked for eight-plus summers.”
The garden consists of raised beds, field plots and a new greenhouse.
The crops go to the school lunch program. The students plant several crops, including tomatoes, beans, zucchini, leeks, carrots, peppers, onions, potatoes and berries.
With such a variety of crops, the school devised a system of organizing them by grade.
“Every grade level has different crops that they plant, so the kids will have a chance to do different crops each year,” Elson said. “The kids are involved in everything from the planting to harvesting, weeding and watering.”
The garden supplies about 1,000 pounds of food to the cafeteria, so it is important to maintain it carefully over the summer.
The parent help has been an important factor in doing so.
“Our parent support group is huge,” Elson said. “It has been so consistent.”
Over in Lincoln, educators have found a similar system for summer care of the Lincoln Community School garden works, as well.
Teacher Patty Schoenhuber explained that a garden committee takes care of general upkeep.
“The garden committee is a group of parents. There are about four or five parents who have been part of the garden committee for years and their role is to support the garden in any way we need them to,” she said. “A lot of them are gardeners themselves, so they are an incredible resource. They help organize everything.”
The committee comes to the school periodically over the summer to weed and water the garden.
The school held a farmers’ market this past Thursday to sell their plants, with the proceeds going back to the garden program. Each student can take home one plant to learn about gardening over the summer. The remaining plants go into the garden.
“Anything that doesn’t sell we will plant in the garden,” Schoenhuber said.
Another strategy for reducing the amount of care the garden needs over the summer is plant things that need less care between sowing and harvesting.
“For the rest of the garden we will plant root vegetables and some Brassica plants like kale or Brussels sprouts and in the fall we will harvest those and bring them into our kitchen,” Schoenhuber said.
The garden committee oversees caretaking for the summer, but students will take over when they return in the fall.
Schoenhuber said that having the students come back and work on the garden in September brings the project full circle.
“The kids in the fall will harvest the garden and we bring it into our lunch program,” she said. “It really makes it so the kids see the benefits of having the garden.”
The Hannaford Career Center agriculture program has three gardens that also require volunteer help in the summer, explained agriculture instructor Cheryl Werner late last week.
“We have a little garden out front,” she said, of the plot in front of the Charles Street school in Middlebury. “Kids from the Mary Johnson Children’s Center will buddy with our students to plant the garden next week. They will plant vegetables that are appealing to kids. The garden will be easy-care.”
Werner will check on this garden throughout the summer.
The program has a bigger garden at its north campus off Mainelli Road. For this one, a more long-term partnership is necessary, said Werner.
“(Director) Lynn Coale will be overseeing a connection with a local summer day camp out of Mary Hogan (Elementary School). They’ll be taking care of the raised beds,” she said.
The students will harvest and process the vegetables from these beds into value-added food products when they return in the fall.
“The students will value-add them and make them into salsa, spaghetti sauce and pesto,” Werner said.
Adding value to raw foods is part of a unit where students learn business skills. The process involves taking a raw vegetable, such as a tomato, and increasing its value by turning it into a product, like a sauce. The gardens are important for this unit and need to receive care over the summer.
The program will add a new third garden. The students will plant it this week, with the goal of creating a low-maintenance garden.
“We’re planting potatoes and vine crops. It’s pretty much a low-care bed. We’re planting the potatoes under hay mulch so we can leave them and come back to them in the fall. The area around the cucumber seeds will be un-mulched, so if we remain pest-free they’ll be low-care,” Werner said. “The day camp will do care and I’ll check on the beds periodically.”
The agriculture program wants to add more gardens, but summer care poses a challenge. Volunteers are necessary for any type of school garden.
“We have the ability to get stuff planted, but summer care for school gardens is all volunteer so it’s hard to increase the size of the gardens,” Werner said. “You really need the volunteer piece or you need to make a connection with a group.”

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