Southold School to break ground on student garden

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Posing with the plans for the garden, seventh graders stand at the site where they will eventually grow vegetables. From left: Kailey Hanrahan, Abbey Cacovic, Jessie Bakanic, Meg Pickerell and Nick Orientale.

In February a group of Southold sixth-graders asked the district superintendent and school board for support in creating an on-campus garden. And on Friday, Oct. 14, they’ll break ground on a 60- by 100-foot field of dreams.

“Everybody kept saying build a better playground,” said Meg Pickerell, now a seventh-grader. But her idea was to do something that would “make our school better.” What she likes about the garden project is that it will bring the members of her class closer together and provide space that can serve the whole community.

Sparked by her idea, class members wrote essays describing their vision of the garden and how it would enhance the campus and school programs.

“It’s a great thing for the school to do and a nice place to sit and just hang out with friends,” Jessie Bakanic said.

The fact that there’s such a big field with access to irrigation made it a good idea, said Nick Orientale.

But the students never expected their idea would bear fruit so soon.

“We thought that it was a big stretch,” Abbey Cacovic said. “To see it come into play is kind of amazing.”

Not that amazing, said Superintendent David Gamberg. “When you write for a purpose, you can make things happen,” he said.

The aim is to take advantage of educational opportunities in using the space creatively. Not only will students plant, cultivate and reap vegetables to be used in the school cafeteria, the garden is to be a center of activity for a variety of learning experiences, including math, science, reading, writing, journaling and photography.

“It will always be a work in progress, evolving as new ideas emerge,” the superintendent said. “The sky is the limit.”

He envisions students going online to research recipes that use vegetables grown in the garden and creating new cafeteria menus.

The project has also been embraced the wider community of parents, business owners, government officials, civic organizations and educators.

Peconic Land Trust, Slow Food East End and deputy supervisor Phillip Beltz have all signed on to help move the project forward.

“It seemed like a no-brainer,” said Mary Mraz, managing partner at North Fork Table & Inn and the parent of three elementary school children. She is a member of a committee helping to organize the project.

The garden was inspired in part by first lady Michelle Obama’s drive for healthier diets for children.

“It was the right timing,” said Claudia Ramone, a fellow committee member who has spent seven years at the French Culinary Institute and has a first-grader in Southold and a 3-year-old.

There’s plenty of fertile ground on the North Fork and no reason why every school district shouldn’t cultivate a garden, Ms. Ramone said.

“Hopefully, others will find inspiration” in efforts being made in the Southold and Greenport school districts, she said.

Teacher’s aide Emmie Karam visited the garden Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, Maine, bringing back tales of what’s possible when a community pulls together to “make magic happen,” Mr. Gamberg said.

That garden, started in 2000, now provides more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers and has produced several thousand pounds of organic produce each year that is used in the school cafeteria and sold to the community at a student-operated farm stand. Students also sell food wholesale to the Belfast Co-op and donate to the local soup kitchen.

A committee of parents working on the Southold garden project is seeking volunteers with expertise in constructing raised planting beds and deer fencing, help with rototilling to prepare the garden for spring planting and donations of tools and equipment. They also seek financial sponsors to help fund the project.

Anyone interested in assisting should contact Ms. Karam at 494-9560 or [email protected].

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