For the first time this year, a barren patch of schoolyard was transformed into an educational harvest at Howell Road Elementary School in the Valley Stream (N.Y.) Union Free School District Thirteen.
With a sponsorship from Centerplate and contributions from the Howell Road PTA, the garden began to grow.
Before seeds were planted in the spring, the sixth-graders in the school’s Garden Club polled the kindergarten through third-grade students as to which veggies they’d like to see planted in the garden. The top choices were corn and carrots, but carrots, tomatoes, herbs and more went into the ground as seeds and then flourished into plants throughout the year.
“It was paramount to directly involve the kindergarten through third-grade students in the process of planning, growing, harvesting, maintaining and preparing recipes using vegetables from the garden,” says Centerplate Executive Chef Drew Revella, who assisted the students with the process and later taught them how to bring the harvest to the kitchen and taste the bounty. “Who better to help their classmates with this task than Howell’s own sixth-grade students?”
The students researched different gardening schools of thought and decided to use the square-foot garden approach, a method developed by gardening expert Mel Bartholomew in 1981. This method divides the growing area into small square sections, typically one foot per side (hence the name), creating orderly, highly productive kitchen gardens. The school’s Garden Club, organized by teachers Paula Barnick and Aleksandra Pettas, ended up having about 84 squares in which to plant.
“Mel Bartholomew had the creative insight to challenge the usual use of rows in gardens,” Revella says. “The square-foot garden includes large boxes with smaller squares inside. Each square has different plants growing within them, which increases the variety and amount of vegetables, while cutting down the amount of weeds.”
In addition to being ideal for a small space, the square-foot method maximizes the time and energy put into gardening. Since there are no garden paths, all available space is used, and nothing gets stepped on. Accessibility to students was a key element, since “our goal with this garden was to increase student awareness of how the earth and its resources are used to meet our needs,” Principal Frank Huplosky told the local Patch news outlet. “It’s a pleasure to see the students receive the awarding experience of being able to eat what they have grown themselves.”
The garden ended up producing a lot of tomatoes and carrots, so Revella taught two classes of about 100 students how to make an easy dip with Greek yogurt, fresh parsley, garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper to dip carrot and tomato slices. “It was simple and delicious,” Revella says, adding that the garden project has gotten him thinking about kids’ menu items in general.
At Belmont Park, a horse racing venue where Revella is executive chef, “we host families all the time and elsewhere at venues Centerplate serves. “We like to get creative with thinking of new menu items that will appeal to kids…we need to add more fresh vegetables to the menu!”
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