“Mustard greens, dinosaur kale, sweet peas – the kind you can eat the shell – and the curly ends of garlic. Look, here’s one in my pocket.” Second and third graders involved in the C.W. Henry Elementary School’s gardening club are describing the kinds of food they’ve raised and eaten as part of the school’s gardening club, which meets once a week after school.
“I’m good at digging,” says Theo, when asked about his accomplishments in the club this year. “And I’m good at growing tomatoes.”
Exuberance abounds on this wet Monday afternoon, the last garden club meeting of the year. Children pepper the sponsoring teacher, Mrs. Polkon, with questions about whether garden club will be back next year. This spring they’ve worked hard to establish a vegetable garden, and a recent grant from Recyclebank’s Green Schools Program allowed them to plant a serviceberry tree with edible fruits, and install a raised garden near the teachers’ parking lot.
Henry parents Kelly Tannen and Jenny Aiello coordinate the club and a group of parent volunteers make sure weekly projects go smoothly. But the kids seem pretty self-directed, and they’re proud of how much they know about vegetables after working in the garden for a few months. They’ve also become more adventurous eaters, and eagerly encourage a visiting reporter to try a fistful of quite spicy mustard greens.
Parent coordinator Tannen admits that getting 22 children to stay on task can feel chaotic at moments, but she’s happy to get her hands dirty for the cause. “It’s very hands-on learning. I see the school garden as an outdoor classroom where students can learn using all five senses.” Next year she and Aiello would like to see more teachers taking advantage of the garden and incorporating it into their classroom curriculum.
“I really enjoy seeing their excitement about little things like finding worms or tasting something new, and I appreciate their enthusiasm in helping out with whatever we’re doing in the garden,” Tannen adds.
The kids seem to agree. “I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t think gardening would be this fun,” says Sade.