The Hindley school community is seeing its “fruits of labor”- tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, herbs and pumpkins ready to be picked.
Last year, the elementary schools received a grant from Whole Foods for their edible garden project. Parents and community volunteers donated time and resources in the spring to build the garden area. Students took part by planting seeds and parents took turns watering the garden over the summer.
Principal Rita Ferri said that some parents suggested a location for the garden, formerly grass and shrubs, because it receives a good amount of sun every day. The adjacent road is bus stop so students can observe the plants without waiting for a scheduled time in the school day. The garden is also right outside of the cafeteria.
The main goal is for students to see the life cycle of the plants and understand what is going on. At Hindley they can examine the foods on the benches outside of the garden. It is not an official part of the science curriculum, but students learn about topics like recycling and soil with the project tied in. They also record observations in their free time.
“You start to see children who are really interested in agriculture and how Mother Earth works,” Ferri said. “Something they may not have ever had exposure to or even realized they were interested in, so it widens their dimensions.”
Some students are even trying certain vegetables for the first time, said Dee Attisani, a member of Hindley’s Parent Teacher Organization and mother of a fifth grader.
Attasi recalled a question about the small pumpkins growing in the garden. “They think it’s just for Halloween. They don’t realize you can eat the pumpkin. We start there and say that this is exactly where it comes from,” Attasi said.
Though you might not expect to see children eating their vegetables, “they’ll try it because they created it,” Ferri said. “I had a little guy who said, ‘I never had a cucumber before.’ He couldn’t even say the word.” The first grader’s class was the one to plant cucumber seeds. He took a cucumber home and enjoyed it.
In the fall, classes will plant different vegetables like spinach, lettuce and peas.
“It’s just a nice learning experience about where the food you eat actually comes from,” Attisani said. “I think it’s fantastic and the kids are excited about it.”
The gardens also fit into Darien schools healthy and organic lunch program. At Hindley, students learn about picking healthy lunches and snacks. There are not enough vegetables yet to serve the entire school, but the cafeteria staff serves them up from the garden when they are available.
Eventually Ferri hopes the project will be self-sustaining. The school implemented “Trash Free Tuesdays,” to encourage students to recycle and contribute to the school’s composting. Young children are known to leave food uneaten, Ferri said. With this program, any organic extra will go back into garden. Hindley currently has a small composter for its flower garden, but will buy a larger one with the help of the PTO. Composting will also help the garden be organic.
Residents in the area are welcomed to stop by and pick a ripe vegetable. Ferri said that their neighbors, even those without children at the school continuously compliment the garden. She also said that the community is a part of the project, as many people helped them out and support what they are doing. She believes Darien residents will help sustain the project in the future.