By Jeff LaBonte
Fourth graders eating raw, fresh turnips for a snack at school. You read that right. A group of 4th grade students at Swanson Road Intermediate School had a special guest this past Thursday.
Lynn Stromberg of Lettuce Be Local (www.lettucebelocal.com) – a company that connects local food service businesses with locally-sourced food – visited SWIS and brought a basket of fresh vegetables with her. In addition to turnips, she brought carrots – orange, white, yellow and even purple carrots. You’ll be glad to read that these 8 and 9 year olds scooped them all up.
The purpose of Stomberg’s visit is the real point of today’s story. According to SWIS principal, Susan Lopez, a couple of months back a group of fourth graders asked her for a meeting. “They
wanted to start growing vegetables in the courtyard” said Lopez. “So they wrote me a letter requesting a meeting.”
One thing led to another, and SWIS Media Specialist, Sarah Connell was asked if she would help guide the group with this initiative. Said Connell, “I have absolutely no experience with growing anything. But the students were so enthusiastic.” Fortunately for Connell, she knew Lynn Stromberg and called upon her expertise, which led to Thursday’s meeting.
A group of very prepared students presented a slide show of their idea, dubbed “Farm to Fork” after the growing movement to eat locally sourced foods year round. The students’ plan is to use the SWIS courtyard to plant a variety of herbs and vegetables that will be used in the school cafeteria and possibly sold to teachers and families.
The Auburn Cultural Council has already pledged $150 toward seeds and supplies to get the group moving forward. The students plan to approach some other local businesses, and to use any
income generated from selling produce to purchase additional supplies for next year.
The students’ initial plan is to plant tomatoes, beans, lettuce, basil, and oregano. They hope to offer much of the harvest to the school cafeteria to be used in preparing student lunches.
Said Connell, “The students have already talked to the food service staff, and they were very supportive.”
The students had several questions prepared for Ms Stromberg. One question was advice on what plants could do well at SWIS, and how best to get those plants started. Stomberg pointed out that some plants, like carrots, do best when seeded directly outside. Tomatoes, on the other hand, could be started indoors and transplanted.
She suggested the students start seedlings using cardboard egg cartons. The sections could then be separated and planted outside, cardboard and all. She also said students should wait until late May to plant outside to avoid the danger of frost damage.
Another question the students posed was what kinds of vegetables would be most useful to the school cafeteria. “Root vegetables” said Stomberg. “They provide a lot of flexibility, great nutrition, and a long shelf life.”’
Stromberg wrapped up with some general advice about saving seeds for the next crop, and complementary plants. “Certain plants help each other” said Stromberg. “Cucumber plant leaves can shelter lettuce from the hot summer sun, for instance. And carrots and tomatoes help each other by repelling certain pests.”
By the end of the 45-minute session, enthusiasm for gardening was in the air, despite the frigid temperatures outside. The students and Ms Connell seemed eager to get the project moving onto the next steps.
It is exciting to see young people so interested in sourcing their own fresh food, and the school faculty so supportive of the students’ initiative. Anyone who is interested in donating to help defray the cost of supplies (seeds, potting soil, garden tools, etc.), or to donate supplies directly, can contact Sarah Connell at email@example.com.
We will follow the progress of this group, and hope to bring you fruitful updates as the project grows.