IN A BEACON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL’S GARDEN on a cloudy summer Tuesday, parent volunteers were joined by some unexpected company. One woman was weeding, though she has no kids in the school—she simply wanted to help a community cause, she said. Several youngsters were on hand to help harvest garlic and pull weeds. Tionne Arroy, a graduate of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Green Teen garden education program, spent the summer teaching and working with kids in the school gardens. One girl, whose kindergarten class had participated, walked her younger brother around the garden, brimming with pride as she told him about each vegetable.
That was in July. Hudson Valley Seed, a year-round, school-based vegetable- growing program that uses school gardens to teach kids about healthy eating, food literacy and environmental stewardship, is set to expand in a major way. This fall, the program will include about 3,000 children in eight elementary schools in Garrison, Newburgh and Beacon. (At its launch in the spring of 2013, 56 students from one Beacon school participated. Currently, 13,000 students in schools throughout the Hudson Valley are on a waiting list.)
The program, however, is not just a “gardening at recess activity,” explains Hudson Valley Seed founder and executive director Ava Bynum. “Everything we do in Hudson Valley Seed program is tied to Common Core.” However controversial the state-mandated curriculum standards defined by Common Core might be, the Hudson Valley Seed’s program planning and design (which includes classroom visits by a program educator on a consistent basis throughout the school year) makes it easier for schools to participate. Through the summer, the harvested produce is donated to food pantries and to Kids R Kids, which provides free lunches to youth. In school during the off season, classes plan gardens, and students keep journals that incorporate math, science, art and writing while they study nutrition, document plant growth and conduct monthly taste tests.
Those taste tests are an important way to gauge the program’s success, Bynum says. “The kids who have had this program the longest are trying— and liking—more vegetables.”