Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Food harvested at school garden in Cutchogue incorporated into meals

Students at Cutchogue East Elementary School will soon be eating the fruits and vegetables grown in the school garden and harvested by third- to sixth-graders who belong to the school’s garden club.

This is the first time the foods grown on site will be incorporated into meals made in the school cafeteria, science teacher Sarah Maine said.

“It’s great to see them trying the foods,” said Ms. Maine, who runs the club with speech therapist Betsy Bitman. “They’re eating things they’ve never tried before, like raw cabbage and baby bok choy.”

The produce picked by the three-year-old club in the past was put on a separate “tasting table” for elementary students to try.

The garden club has two sections, each with 25 students, that alternate taking care of the garden. Ms. Maine said that even with 50 students participating, there is a waiting list to join the club.

Each week the students harvest items from the garden that are ready to pick, such as carrots, tomatoes and raspberries. They also wash and weigh the fruits and vegetables. The teachers then take the baskets of produce to the cafeteria to be incorporated into meals for the entire school.

“There’s a job for everyone,” Ms. Bitman said. “The students feel a sense of pride and accomplishment and success and it encourages teamwork.”

Fourth-grader Christian Kretschmer looks for vegetables to be picked and used by the
Cutchogue East Elementary School cafeteria. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Since the garden club meets only once a week, students also have to clean up by removing unusable produce and weeding the beds, which is a favorite activity for many students.

“I love weeding!” said Alex, a third-grader. “It’s fun and you get dirty. I also like harvesting and planting.”

“I like getting to plant stuff and pick them,” fourth-grader Zoey said. This is her second year in the garden club, which is also supervised by parent volunteers.

Another component of the club is planting the produce, which students will continue doing throughout the fall. After ripe produce is picked, crops that are cold weather tolerant, such as lettuce, spinach, arugula and kale, are reseeded.

This school year also marks the first time the garden club had a summer component as well.

Fir its first two seasons, the club was active only during the school year. Students in special education classes tended to the garden in July, but it was left unattended in August. This summer, however, 10 children came to the school regularly to harvest the crops and maintain the space.

“I love seeing them engaged and excited to be outside,” Ms. Maine said.

Ms. Bitman said an added benefit of the club is getting students off their electronic devices and focused on the outdoors.

She said the club meets rain or shine. On bad weather days, the students do indoor projects, such as decorating and labeling stones to use throughout the garden, which was created and continues with the help of numerous community donations.

“This is when you hook them,” Ms. Maine said. “It’s when they learn to love the foods and the skills of gardening.”

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Top photo: Fourth-grader Jillian Fogarty with a carrot she picked from the Cutchogue East school garden. (Credit: Nicole Smith)