Greenport program teaches kids importance of veggies

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Greenport School fifth graders pose inside one of several garden boxes which were built by older students in the school's woodshop. The boxes will be brought to the garden behind the school and the fifth graders will plant vegetables in them.

First lady Michelle Obama is reaching out to encourage local communities to help their children become healthy by teaching them about nutrition, now Greenport is jumping on board.

What started as a small organic edible garden project at the Elementary School has blossomed into a community effort involving students from kindergarten through grade 12 plus local residents and merchants, including restaurateur Rosa Ross of Scrimshaw in Greenport. She’s showing students how to use the healthy vegetables they grow to make delectable meals.

Ms. Ross was among the chefs Ms. Obama called to Washington last year to spearhead the effort to improve children’s nutrition. After returning to the North Fork, Ms. Ross wasn’t quite sure at first how she might implement a local program. Along came Greenport school nurse Carol Worth, who was ready to put Ms. Ross’ skills to work.

Ms. Worth began exploring the organic gardens springing up at various East End schools and became intrigued by the “edible schoolyard” projects that have spread from California to the East Coast. Working with Maryann Birmingham of Cornell Cooperative Extension, she saw the garden as a means of giving life to her lectures about proper nutrition.

Ms. Worth’s duties at the school include weighing and measuring students, and she has seen many with increasing body mass indexes. She wanted action, not just words, to change that trend.

“It’s something I can do to make a change,” she said of the organic edible garden effort.

Mary Morgan, who has two children at the school and is among the leaders of Slow Food East End, arranged a $3,000 grant from that group. That got Ms. Worth’s project off and running.

Peconic Land Trust’s Charnews Farm on Youngs Avenue in Southold has also played a part in the project, helping to educate both Ms. Worth and teacher assistant Jeanie Calderale in the ways of organic growing.

Deer fencing has gone up around the school garden area, and junior and senior high school students, under the direction of teacher Mike Davies, have been busy in woodworking classes creating the wooden frames for the raised planting beds. The Marjam company of Mattituck provided the wood at a very low cost, Ms. Worth said. As for Mr. Davies, as a summer worker at a local farm he said he was delighted to get his students involved.

Clark’s Garden on Main Street has been growing some seedlings that will be turned over to the students for planting. Ms. Calderale jumped in to select plants and will work with the students doing the planting.

The garden will include lettuce, spinach, peas, radishes, potatoes, tomatoes and other colorful vegetables.

Students have so taken to heart her lessons about proper nutrition that she needs only to walk through the cafeteria to have them come up to her to show off the vegetables they’ve brought for lunch in place of the sweet and salty snacks that once dominated their lunch bags.

But the edible garden doesn’t end with the planting. And that’s where Ms. Ross’ talents will be pressed into service in teaching students how their home-grown vegetables can enhance school cafeteria menus.

The first step was a tour of Scrimshaw, where the students could see first hand how professionals prepare gourmet meals.

Ms. Ross will also work with home economics teachers and students to ensure that the organic vegetables are used effectively to tempt palates.

Art students will also get involved by creating signs for the garden from recycled wood.

Elementary school principal Joseph Tsaveras is looking ahead and dreams about planting a vineyard at the school next year.

He’s not looking to turn students into winemakers, but he would like to grow some grapes for them to add to their menus.

“It’s unbelievable what a community can do to build something wonderful for the school,” Ms. Worth said.

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