At the Williamsburg Elementary School, garden education is an integrated part of the curriculum. Every class in the small school Prek-6th grade (11 classes) has 24 weeks of garden education with the garden used as an inspiration for broad curriculum development. Teachers extend garden class material to many subjects, linking to the curriculum frameworks. Photosynthesis, decomposition and composting, worms, soils, plant parts, study of world cultures, are all learned hands on by planting seeds, cultivating seasonal vegetables, harvesting, and eating garden produce. Math is also a regular part of gardening. The children often collect and graph data, work through fractions and geometry to decide how much of a garden bed to use, or work on addition skills in figuring out how many seeds were planted. Children learn first hand the interrelations between their lives and the larger food, economic, political and environmental issues of our time. Directed garden journaling inspires critical thinking. They become competent self-directed learners about real life issues. In addition, the process reaches beyond schools into a community of parents, teachers, farmers, artists, professionals, organizations and local businesses willing to contribute their expertise.
Classroom Cooking and Harvest Feast:
Children are able to experience the entire process of food production including harvesting the vegetables they grow and learning to cook with them in the classroom. The Williamsburg School and Fertile Ground hold an annual harvest festival featuring dishes made by each class using produce from the school garden. Menus have included: pesto, garlic bread, sourdough pizza, brussel sprouts, squash pie, red popcorn, roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, collard torte, green salsa, herb teas, salad, kale, chard rollups. (See buy a cookbook).
Making Farm Connections and Field Trips:
Classes visit working farms, beginning in Kindergarten with a trip to Nuestras Raíces urban farm and community center in Holyoke. Teachers have made their own connections with town farmers through exhibiting school garden produce at the annual Williamsburg Grange Fair. Our intergenerational program brings students to neighboring maple sugar and dairy farms. Children walk with their teachers to the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market during market season.
By providing new equipment, training, and logistical assistance, Fertile Ground makes it easier for food service staff to cook with school garden vegetables and to purchase fresh produce from local farms. When possible, the Williamsburg School food service directors order salad greens, onions, potatoes, carrots, peppers, apples, berries and squash from local farms. Fertile Ground also supports school wellness initiatives to promote serving more fresh and local produce and cutting down on salt, fat and sugar in meals. Fertile Ground encourages school gardens as a way of teaching kids to make healthy choices and to engage children in physical activity.
Families care for the garden during the summer months – watering, weeding and eating. Parent volunteers organize community fundraisers, the Harvest Feast, and classroom cooking. After 10 years, the PTO has taken on many of the fiscal duties of the farm to school program, managing small grants and contributions. Fertile Ground staff have helped to develop a Farm to School committee, who manage much of program with the teachers and staff, and seek new sources of funding.
Since the beginning, we have worked closely with teachers planning curriculum that fits their needs. For example, the Kindergarten studies Puerto Rican culture and geography as a social studies unit. The first and second grades cover plant science in the garden, and language arts by journaling about their garden experiences and observations. Third grade covers science and math units by studying soil sciences, the water cycle, and photosynthesis, and covers history/social studies with Native American Three Sisters Agricultural traditions. The fourth grade studies root crops and soil types and fifth graders have used the garden to study math and economics by selling seeds and building cold frames. 6th grade studies geography with herbs and is working on examining social justice issues in their own communities and the communities of people they have met through gardening. Each class also selects crops to plant and cooks a meal in the fall for the Harvest Feast.