Private school vegetable gardens are growing in Montgomery County
Students grow and learn, in the garden
Third-graders from Bullis School in Potomac carried freshly picked cherry tomatoes, radishes and zucchini squash to cafeteria manager Doan Duong on Friday.
Students pulled the produce from the garden on the school's campus. Doan planned to add the fresh food to the salad bar along with other vegetables and post signs to note the items that came from the school garden.
"We also do fresh zucchini and tomato as a side dish. The kids love it, most of them," Duong said. "It never goes to waste."
Vegetable gardens are thriving at private schools in Montgomery County where the public school system is being urged to allow students to cultivate gardens in schoolyards. The county school system, which cited student allergies and animal dangers as reasons fruit and vegetable gardens are not compatible with schools, is working with the county parks department to locate community gardens on three system-owned sites that do not house schools.
The Bullis garden, a fenced plot nestled behind an arc of holly trees on the 80-acre campus, is shared by faculty, staff, students and alumni. As the weather turns colder, tomato plants are ending the season alongside fall plantings of lettuces, radishes and herbs and zinnias spilling over with colorful blossoms.
"It has become a part of the curriculum," said third-grade science teacher Carolyn Cohen. "I think it's important for the kids to become interested in sustainable gardening; we rely too much on grocery stores."
Gordon Clark, project director of Montgomery Victory Gardens, a nonprofit committed to building a sustainable food system in Montgomery County, is leading the effort to have vegetable gardens at county schools who want them. He agrees that gardening and healthy eating go together.
"When kids start [gardening], studies show they are much more open to trying new foods and eating healthy," Clark said.
Back at Bullis School, third-grader Kenna Zier, 9, plucked a radish from the garden.
She planned to taste her first radish at lunch.
"I think they will be sweet, I don't know," Kenna said.
Students at Holton-Arms School in Bethesda have one garden for the lower school, grades three through six, and one for the upper school, grades nine through 12.
Joel Seltzer, upper school history teacher, started the first garden in 2007 with senior Lauren McDonald of Bethesda, now at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. McDonald grew an organic garden in her backyard for her senior project, and then decided to start one at the school.
"The first year we did a pizza garden. It was round, about 12 feet in diameter, and we grew pizza toppings: peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and edible yellow flowers, marigold and calendulas, were our cheese,'" Seltzer said.
Lower school students tend the garden, planted to coordinate with the science and social studies curriculum, and donate produce to the Capital Area Food Bank Grow a Row program.
Teaching the students about healthy eating is what it's all really about, Seltzer said.
"It's meant to be a teaching tool; I want them to know they can grow beautiful food, to know where their food comes from," he said.
At the Butler School in Darnestown, micro-economies are integral to the curriculum for 12- to 14-year-olds, head of school Becki Hardie explained. The students started out raising herbs and flowers, with the intention of selling to families within the school community. In 2009, they added vegetables and berries, and began to tend the garden year round.
Their crops include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, zucchini, eggplant and peppers. The students also raise chickens for eggs.
In addition to selling the produce, the students make it part of their weekly community lunches. On Wednesdays, a small group of seventh- and eighth-grade students make lunch for their classmates.
The Butler School has 135 to 160 students in preschool through eighth grade. Fourteen students are in the group that maintains the garden. They work in small groups alongside an adult. The students choose what they want to grow and research their choices.
To help fund its work on the school garden issue, Montgomery Victory Gardens held a concert of Blueberry Gardens Farm in Ashton on Sunday. Folk and pop duo Emma's Revolution performed and the group raised about $1,500, according Gordon Clark, project manager for Montgomery Victory Gardens.
Some of the private schools in Montgomery County with vegetable gardens
-Butler School, Darnestown; Concord Hill School, Chevy Chase; Green Acres School, Rockville, Landon School, Bethesda and St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Potomac.
The Montgomery County Department of Parks garden meetings are scheduled for:
-Monday, Nov. 1, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Rocking Horse Center, 4910 Macon Road, Rockville.
-Thursday, Nov. 4, 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Emory Grove Center, 18100 Washington Grove Lane, Gaithersburg.
For more information on the meetings visit http://www.montgomeryparks.org/permits/
Staff Writer Comfort Dorn contributed to this report.