The land behind Sag Harbor Elementary School, which currently hosts a storage container and tennis courts, will soon take on a new face thanks to a group of Sag Harbor parents and British designer Sam Panton of the environmentally friendly landscape architecture firm, Terra Design.
Their plan? The Sag Harbor “Eco-Walk,” an educational outdoor walkway that is designed to connect Sag Harbor Elementary School to Pierson High School, and aims to teach children the benefits of having an “edible backyard.”
When completed, the proposed Eco-Walk, which will rely on the Sag Harbor community for both labor and funding, will provide schoolchildren the opportunity to cultivate their own food and beautify their surroundings, while simultaneously creating a greater sense of community within the whole of Sag Harbor.
And indeed, what could be a more symbolic example of community-building than joining Sag Harbor’s two public schools?
“The connecting of the schools is meant to serve as a reminder of the unison of our community, and the connected path that all the children of our community will follow,” says the Eco-Walk’s mission statement.
The group’s committee is hoping to have a pathway extend directly from Sag Harbor Elementary School across Jermain Avenue to Pierson High School, and is working with other parties to ensure the walkway is paved and efforts are made to slow traffic and make both schools more accessible to pedestrians. The students in Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson High School will collaborate to plant, grow, harvest, and compost the project’s yield, creating what Sag Harbor Elementary School science teacher Kryn Olson refers to as “a full cycle” of both agriculture and community.
Olson was a proponent of the construction of the greenhouse that now sits behind the elementary school and has used it to educate students in the principles and techniques involved in growing their own plants and vegetables. Taking the “greenhouse project,” which Olson explains includes “several types of plants and beds ranging from herbs to vines to perennials,” to the next level, the Eco-Walk will feature five different ecosystems surrounding the greenhouse. According to Olson, these ecosystems will mimic natural environments found on the East End, placing an emphasis on native greenery and local harvest. This will educate the children about the East End’s natural beauty, while at the same time ensuring that the project is as self-sustaining as possible.
Indeed, according to Sag Harbor Elementary parent Ed Bruehl, who has been involved in the Eco-Walk project as organizer and fund raising coordinator, Panton’s style of landscaping calls for minimal upkeep through “the use of naturally occurring plants, grasses and soils.” He added that the Eco-Walk will be “a low-maintenance project,” making it easy for Sag Harbor families and residents to work together to tend the grounds, without the need for costly professional services. Says Olson, “we need to expose our children to sustainable agriculture and living practices.”
Both Bruehl and Olson underscored the Eco-Walk’s general aim, which is to impress upon young minds the importance of sustainable gardening and agriculture, by highlighting seed-to-table techniques and by teaching children about the agricultural history of the region and its native plant species. The planned teaching area will consist of an outdoor classroom (complete with a chalkboard), a “cafeteria” area, and, of course, an edible garden. The storage container will be turned into a self-sustaining learning area, getting its power from solar panels. In addition, Olson also mentioned plans for an outdoor seating area that will provide accommodations for both academic and recreational projections and screenings.
But beyond the use as a “hands-on” science experience, Olson notes there are opportunities for a full range of educational activities.
“Though the strongest curriculum link is to science classes, there is a lot of literature, an outdoor theatre area, and plenty of space where art classes can go out to sketch and take photos,” said Olson.
According to Bruehl, the Eco-Walk could be put into effect in time for the 2010-11 school year, depending on funds.
“By creating a really tangible plan,” Bruehl says, “people begin to wrap their arms and heads around what is happening.”
Bruehl is hopeful they will wrap their hearts around it too. In an effort to expedite the process and drive home the theme of community building, the Eco-Walk, with an estimated budget of $100,000, will be created with “community labor, and most importantly, solely with community money.” Most of the materials, including trees and the solar panels for the classroom, have been donated by supporters of the project, and hopes are high for continued donations from local designers and small business owners.
A fundraising and awareness event will be held tonight, Thursday, June 17 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Ziggy’s, 964 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike. There will be food, drinks, music, and a silent auction. A $20 donation is suggested. For more information contact Ed Bruehl at (646) 752-1233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.