It was pretty much standing room only at Monday’s Edible School Gardens Workshop at the Unitarian Church in Westport. I was given an estimate of 300 guests! Event organizer Amy Kalafa is best known as the Producer/Director of the documentary film Two Angry Moms and more recently known as the founder of the online social network Fair Food in Fairifeld Schools. Amy sure knows how to organize and run an event.
The guest speaker and panelists were informative and engaging. Guests received firsthand accounts of school garden initiatives that are now running successfully. Advice ranging from how to test and amend soil, bring together stakeholders, avoid pitfalls, arrange funding, plan for summer maintenance and picking, and overcome roadblocks left guests empowered to forge ahead with plans to build gardens at their schools.
The breakfast and lunch food was abundant, fresh, healthy, eye-pleasing and delicious. Chef/author Nicole Straight graciously provided the breakfast items and Holistic Health Counselor and Cooking Coach Amie Hall and a few other talented cooks prepared and presented a great lunch. Amie, your rice noodle and kale lasagna was super yum!
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:
- Focus on the learning connection when building support with teachers and administrators.
- Decide from the beginning whether the garden should be organic.
- If an edible garden is a non-starter, start with a Victory Garden or Butterfly Garden to pave the way.
- Trade summer picking rights for volunteer hours to maintain the garden.
- School gardens at middle and high schools are largely student driven.
- One school started a Kids Broadcasting program during which the students announce frost dates and crop availability.
- Lemon sorrel is one of the most popular items with children.
- Guest speaker Dorothy Mullen, Founder of the Princeton School Garden Cooperative, is a powerhouse and her PowerPoint presentation is not to be missed (download it at Fair Food in Fairfield Schools)
- Edible school gardens have successfully been matched to state curriculums. (see Dorothy Mullen’s PowerPoint)
- The biggest bang for the curriculum buck is a spring her garden according to Dorothy Mullen.
- Don’t try to do it all yourself.
- UCONN has a master gardener program and can assign one to work with you. Annelise McCay, founder of the organic edible school garden at Sherman School in Fairfield worked very successfully with them.
- Jane Slupecki of the CT Dept. of Agriculture is co-director of the CT Farm to School Program and is organizing master gardeners so you may want to coordinate with her. She also recommended working with the Cooperative Extension in New Haven to get advice on safety practices.
- Grants are available. Visit Fair Food in Fairfield Schools for a grant grid.
- The school nurse at Bedford Hills school, Kate Branch, founded the edible school garden two years ago because it was the best way to teach the kids about nutrition. She was able to work with the district to put in a trench and pay construction costs.
- There is a full-time gardening instructor at The Unquowa School in Fairfield. Mary Curran was part of the team that was trained in Sustainable Education five years ago, which explains their unique attitude towards their edible garden – they are not trying to fit the garden into the curriculum, rather they are teaching the students to be good stewards of the earth.
- Edible school gardens are not exclusive to K-5. Jim Hunter, Wilton High School Biology and AP Science teacher, is planning a garden with the help of very enthusiastic students.
- Teich Gardens is a provider of turnkey edible school garden systems. They designed Kate’s garden in Bedford Hills. Jamie encouraged guests to enter the contest on Reader’s Digest’s web site for a chance to win one of five edible school gardens the publishing company is giving away.
Here’s another great giveaway – Gardener’s Supply Company is giving away a large red garden cart (see photo). Visit their site to enter the contest. It’s gorgeous!
Please visit Fair Food in Fairfield Schools to download copies of presentations and handouts from the event.
Happy Spring and Happy Gardening.