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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Student Gardeners Cultivate Change: at Scarsdale High School

Jul 01, 2014 01:50PM ● By Maggie Favretti

Students helping Al Krautter at Sprain Brook Nursery transplant his seedlings.

Stop by Scarsdale High School any Wednesday or Friday afternoon, and you’ll likely see five to fifteen of my students working in the school’s 7,600-square-foot garden. That’s right—it’s Friday, and a bunch of high school kids, and sometimes a community volunteer or two, are staying late with me to work in the garden together. What you’re seeing is year eight of SHS’s Sustainable Garden Project. 

Our mission: to experience the communal and individual benefits of sustainable food practices and community service. We also want to draw attention to and help reduce poor nutrition in our local food programs.

The Outdoor Classroom

Our garden is an outdoor classroom. As such, it serves various purposes for different academic disciplines as well as for the school’s Garden Club. But it is always a place where students learn by doing, gain familiarity with the natural world and learn confident creativity through collaborative problem solving.              

Across the curriculum, classes use the garden for a number of activities: photography, drawing, architecture, sculpture, plant science, soil chemistry, nutrition, health, measurement, mathematical patterns, statistical prediction, world cultures, history, physical education and ecosystem farming, to name just a few.

The Garden Club focuses on teaching the practical aspects of growing food sustainably and feeding our community. Students plan garden layout, select seed varieties, start seeds indoors, prepare the soil, plant, replant, cultivate, harvest, dry herbs and prepare the garden for winter. They also do support chores, such as caring for tools; maintaining fencing; building light tables, plant boxes and supports; and keeping the area neat and clean.

Garden Club members establish relationships with area soup kitchens and our school dining services and deliver the harvest. Last year, they delivered nearly a ton of food to local soup kitchens. These students help plan and implement garden-based sustainability curricula for grades K-12. They also generate a summer maintenance rotation that includes students, faculty, community members and parents, encouraging broad community use of the garden.

Club students typically spend four hours a week either in the garden or engaged in garden-related activities. 

Cultivating Change

This past April, the SHS Sustainable Garden Club hosted a conference called “Gardening Matters: Building Sustainable Communities through Backyard, School and Community Gardens.” More than 100 people gathered to discuss gardens, hunger, nutrition, food production and distribution, and school and community sustainability. Most participants came from the Lower Hudson Valley, but some came from as far away as Rhode Island. The conference’s 16 panelists included experts in sustainable farming, food distribution and school gardens. The keynote speaker was filmmaker Lori Silverbush (A Place at the Table), who energized participants to get active politically to end hunger in America.

Out of the conference grew the Gardens Against Hunger Network, which links school and community gardens with farmers and food pantries. One of its first activities was to survey the members, using Lea Cullen Boyer’s Green Guru Network as a host, to identify the network’s most pressing need: to prepare school gardens for the summer. 

We hope to create community volunteer networks to create and maintain summer gardens at area schools and to develop a plan for locating crops and donating them to food pantries and soup kitchens. This summer we would like to put together youth “crop mobs” who will pitch in on local farms and learn what they can, and then visit each other’s school gardens to share in the learning and the work. Our hope is that the Gardens Against Hunger Network will continue to gain members and offer year-round support to farmers, food pantries and school and community gardens.

If you would like to join the Gardens Against Hunger Network, or if you live nearby and would like to volunteer in our efforts to cultivate change, simply contact me at [email protected].

Maggie Favretti teaches history and food policy at Scarsdale High School.  She also teaches sustainable gardening, advising the SHS Sustainable Garden Project.

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