School gardens on the East End aren’t just connecting students with the joy of playing in the dirt. The growing renaissance of outdoor learning is bringing a holistic awareness of health and nutrition to students and their families. What the kids learn at school translates into the home, where long-term changes can happen.
Over 27 school districts on Long Island have been able to create on campus gardens with the help of dedicated staff and parents, along with Edible School Gardens, an organization that assists schools with building gardens and greenhouses.
ESB’s mission is to “reconnect children and their families with real food and to empower and inspire local communities to eat well.” They want to “help children experience what real food is, where it comes from, and how to grow it.”
Greenport and Southold schools are two North Fork campuses that have worked with ESB to get their gardens growing. Now that spring has sprung, students in each school’s Garden Club are back in the dirt, said Greenport School Superintendent David Gamberg.
“Now that spring is here, the kids are back in the gardens preparing them for the season,” Gamberg said. “They’re very excited to get back out there.”
Gamberg said both gardens produce an “abundance of vegetables,” including radishes, peas, greens, bok choy, garlic, purple sweet potatoes, eggplant, asparagus, and more. Harvests from the school gardens are served in their own cafeteria.
“They both produce so well so the cafeterias have gotten so much food, and the students love gardening,” Gamberg said.
But the garden to table transition isn’t as simple as a stroll indoors from the vegetable beds.
“We have an agreement with the food service provider. They purchase the produce and prepare it for the students. We have to follow guidelines enforced by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, including things like proper hand-washing station, proper insurance, and the gardens must be locked when not in use,” Gamberg explained.
He said that while both gardens grow an abundance of vegetables, “Southold’s is a little larger with their volume of production.” Both school’s gardens are surrounded by tall deer fencing.
The garden was established in 2012 and measures approximately 4200 square feet. It utilizes in-ground garden beds and has a new greenhouse donated by a local farmer. Southold School hopes to have the greenhouses producing year round soon.
Meanwhile, Greenport’s garden came to fruition in 2011 and grows its crops in raised beds. With the assistance of ESB and a grant from Slow Food East End that the school was able to build its garden, measuring 15 by 40 feet with eight raised beds.
In 2016, the school received a $10,000 grant to expand the gardens from the California-based organic seed organization Seeds of Change. The organization awards grants to groups that support sustainable, community-based gardening programs designed to teach people about the food they’re growing and eating.
Gamberg sees no sign of either gardens slowing down. Southold hopes to have its greenhouse producing year-round sooner than later, and Greenport sells summer produce at the Greenport Farmers’ Market.
“They’ve only gotten bigger, better, produced more and more over time,” said Gamberg. “The students love the gardens so much.”