The elementary school where Jody teaches has a garden. It consists of nine raised beds, each one approximately four foot square. Each bed holds several plants, and most hold several different varieties of vegetables and herbs. A few flowers are also blooming among the vegetables. The Home and School Association planned, built, and planted the garden. Work on the garden was done during the school day so that students could participate in the planting in small groups.
It’s a simple project carried out without a great deal of fanfare or fuss, and there is a certain romance to the concept and execution. It also raises some interesting questions about local gardening and farming efforts.
The vegetables in the garden were selected so that some would be ready for harvest before the end of the school year. Several varieties of lettuce were planted. Lettuce grows best in cool weather and indeed the heat of the last few days has caused some of the lettuce to bolt and go to flower, but not before some first graders had a chance to pick the lettuce and make themselves a fine salad. Peas, another cool-weather crop, were also part of the mix, as were parsley, basil, and dill. Because no New Jersey vegetable garden worthy of the name would be without tomatoes, there are several tomato plants among the spring vegetables and herb. This suggests one question: Who will tend the plants and harvest the fruit when it is ripe now that school is out for the summer? Thankfully in this instance there is at least one parent who is looking after the garden. Jody is also planning to stop by when her travels take her near the school.
There are nonprofit organizations devoted to school gardens (http://www.kidsgardening.org/). Related organizations such as City Green (http://www.citygreenonline.org/) support local efforts to plant school gardens (http://www.kidsgardening.org/node/99035). The school-centered benefits of school-based gardens have been studied and the results published in scholarly publications (http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/15/3/453.short, http://www.kohalacenter.org/HISGN/pdf/HPP_2011_MMR_Sample1.pdf, http://www.journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/yjada/article/S0002-8223(07)00014-4/abstract). Is there an additional direction that school gardening can take to benefit the broader community?
A Lot to Grow (http://alottogrow.org/) is an organization based in Essex County that has two gardens in the town where Jody teaches and several more gardens in neighboring towns. Their mission is “to grow vegetables and herbs for distribution to local food pantries, soup kitchens, and subsidized senior housing facilities in suburban Essex County, New Jersey.” What would it take to connect A Lot to Grow with a school-based garden so that the produce could benefit A Lot to Grow’s client community?
It is in everyone’s interest to educate our children about where food really comes from. We ought to increase the availability of affordable, high-quality, locally grown produce, then educate the entire community, including ourselves, about its nutritional value and environmental benefits. Farmers’ markets are great; Jody and I visit one regularly. But the produce sold there is priced beyond the budgets of many families and individuals in this area. On the other hand, the growth (no pun intended) of community gardens, urban farms, school gardens, and similar initiatives is very encouraging. What can we do to keep them growing and ensure that the whole community enjoys the benefits?