Wednesday, September 17, 2014

School Garden: John F. Kennedy Elementary School

Waiting in the Tot Lot at the Kennedy School for my daughters at the end of the school day, I often looked at the two raised beds that sat empty at the back behind the play structures.  I imagined them overflowing with plants and shook my head at the missed opportunity for a garden.  But then the classroom doors opened and kids start spilling out and before I knew it, I was off with my girls to the grocery store, Porter Square Books or just home to make dinner.  Who has time to start and tend a school garden with young kids to take care of?  Answer: No one person does.  But nine families working together can.  And that is what happened!!  


Last spring, Dr. Foley told me about Karyn Novakowski, the new Farm to School Project Director for Somerville Public Schools.  Karyn had great ideas (and a little bit of money) to put those raised beds to use.  Over April vacation, we met at the Tot Lot and weeded and planted seeds.  Three adults and 5 kids started a school garden in about 45 minutes.  And it was really fun.  

Planting peas

Seeding nasturtiums

Seeding squash

Seeds planted were germinated in a classroom and transplanted by volunteers and students


Through the spring, Karyn, myself and another mom, Mihoko, watered at dismissal time.  Kids often helped, hauling watering cans up the beds.  Things started sprouting and people took notice.  As summer grew closer I put out the word that we needed more families to help.  Nine parents and one teacher responded and we assigned each family a week of “Garden Duty.”  During that week, they visited the garden to water, weed and harvest.  Here’s what they had to say about the experience:

“My almost one year old loved the orange cherry tomatoes. The kids loved picking the green beans and eating them still warm from the vines. The girls loved playing in the dirt and watering with the watering cans almost empty. “  -Rebecca Williams

"We watered, weeded and collected all of the weeds into a paper bag.   We also harvested some yummy produce.   The boys snacked on the mouth watering strawberries as I steamed the green beans for dinner.  What a treat!   We ended up adding the enormous cucumber to our pickle jar to marinate in the vinegar and Noah ate it a few days later.  The boys were very excited each day when something new had blossomed.    -Mindy Fox

After - the garden looks great!

Just look at all the green!

Some families were gardening pros and some were totally new to the experience but everyone seemed to find the work worthwhile.  The garden grew all summer long and families enjoyed beans, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, a few peppers, strawberries, zucchini and squash.  Just this week, I picked a plateful of cherry tomato of dazzling varieties and passed them around at the Back to School Ice Cream Social.  It felt great to say, “These were grown right here at the Kennedy School Garden."  

Without even trying, the gardens have already become a teaching tool.  Any time an adult is gardening, kids wander up and ask questions and sample vegetables.  This fall, we will form an official Kennedy Garden Council made up of parents, faculty and students.  The purpose of this Council will be to keep the gardens growing and make them available to teachers to use as a part of their lessons.   

Now, at dismissal time, I find myself chatting with another mom at the raised bed as we pick weeds and sample the garden’s glory.  It didn’t feel like work making this little dream come true!
Content provided by Emily Leadholm, Kennedy School Parent. Pictures provided by volunteer parents and Karyn Novakowski, Somerville Farm to School Project Director

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