Except for one or two lone tomatoes on the windowsill that were plucked late from the vine in the hopes that they would ripen, the sun-kissed succulent taste of homegrown tomatoes is quickly becoming a distant memory. The dewy lettuce from the garden is gone along with those first blueberries and crisp cucumbers. The bountiful harvest has been enjoyed all summer with some gathered in to use throughout the winter, at least for those handy with gardening, canning and freezing.
This was common practice in by-gone days, and certainly all grandmas were experts. Skills were passed down from generation to generation with corresponding recipes for the perfect dill pickles or salsa sauce, with the added benefit of everyone eating a much more healthy diet when compared to today's prepackaged and processed foods. Undeniably, many Americans of all ages exhibit a host of diet-related conditions and illnesses from poor eating habits.
Even though we live in a climate conducive to growing food with most having yard space, few people have gardens. A dying art, many of the younger generation have never really gotten their hands dirty to feel soil between their fingers, nor felt the joy of seeing new sprouts emerge as if by magic from beneath the ground. Fortunately, more and more children are beginning to experience this at Fredonia Central School through their raised garden bed project. Originally spearheaded by Mike Jabot, professor of science education at SUNY Fredonia, the school has just completed their second year of the project. Jabot saw it as an opportunity to have an outdoor learning space for students where they could also reconnect with nature. Having partnered with the elementary school in the past with the Young Inquiring Scientists Project as well as the Great Explorations in Math and Science Program with National Science Foundation grants, the gardens were a natural extension of continued cooperation between the college and elementary schools.
Gianna Ferro, a student at Fredonia Central School, displays some of the produce from the garden project.
A small grant in the first year enabled the school to construct four raised beds under the guidance of Professor Jabot. Science education students started seeds, a few teachers volunteered to share responsibility of the beds, and students worked the soil. The second year blossomed into 14 beds, with plans for 21 next year. Some of the produce this year included lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, beets, peppers, peas, and beans. Students had the opportunity to taste test and enjoy salads, with some of the food served in the cafeteria. A viable option for the future, according to Jabot, 17 percent of food served at the college campus is "locally sourced," which not only supports the local economy, but is a move toward a sustainable supply of fresh and healthy food. Initial seeds for the raised beds at the school include those that are of the heritage or heirloom variety (vs. GMO or chemically treated), which in turn enables seeds to be saved and used for new plants the following year. Fun plans for next year include theme gardens, such as a "salsa garden" with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and whatever else is deemed critical for the perfect sauce.
Curricular connections from science and health to mathematics, vocabulary and language have been another benefit of the garden project. Primary students have kept photo diaries and journals to record observations. Together with their teachers, they have mapped out seed locations, staked and labeled, watered, and weeded. One bed in Michelle McAfee's First Grade, along with the guidance of Nurse Mary Croxton, used marigolds and citronella plants to naturally repel pests. These students also learned the trick of using a mixture of flour and water on paper strips to keep their tiny seeds from spreading all over the garden. A group of students during the summer also harvested, cleaned, and froze some of the summer vegetables so that the food could be used this fall, with some of the harvest donated to the Friendly Kitchen. A recent autumn celebration at the school, "Taste of Harvest," included an evening of sampling more of their bountiful harvest. Along with games such as corn bowling, guests enjoyed eating rainbow pasta with veggies, treats from the pumpkin bar, squash soup and a vegetable chili; truly a fun night to reap the benefits of the gardens.
What makes a "master gardener?" Like the County Association of Bee Keepers, for those adults so inclined, there is also an association that meets for gardening as well. Masters in the making however are the students learning what everyone's grandmas used to do so well in the past. Grow and eat your own food. We all know there is nothing healthier or tastier than a tomato we pick from our own vine. Indeed, "It's difficult to think of anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato." (L. Grizzard).
Make it a good week and enjoy the blessings and bounty of Thanksgiving. Before you know it, dreams of next spring with plans for new gardens will be in the making.