On Tuesday morning, as rain swept across the East End, a high school botany class convened in the Bridgehampton School’s greenhouse. While Jacob Hochstedler pruned spinach and arugula leaves for the school cafeteria salad bar, Christian Figueroa and Brian Minchala carefully planted baby lettuces in rich, dark soil. Elsewhere, Joshua Hochstedler, Aditya Nugraha and Sammy Vallejo continued their work engineering a hydroponics growing system, while Jason Hopson watered plants.
For students at the Bridgehampton School, this is just another day in the greenhouse, which has served as an experiential model for how a school can incorporate an edible garden into a formal curriculum. Here, students not only learn about the life cycle of plants, but literally get their hands dirty in it.
Seeing the success of this model and understanding that it could be expanded, Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre has proposed the development of a comprehensive curriculum to be based in the gardens and greenhouses that have popped up at schools across the East End over the last four years.
Working with Bridgehampton teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz — a member of Slow Food East End and advocate for edible gardens — and other school districts, the Bridgehampton School will host a workshop this June to develop a kindergarten through eighth grade curriculum around edible gardens.
“It was apparent to me that teachers were not utilizing the greenhouse as much as it should be used, for hands-on learning with students,” said Dr. Favre. “With the new common core standards and a push for more project-based learning, I see our greenhouse as a perfect place to cross curricular lines and develop opportunities for honing 21st century skills like predicting, collaborating, creating and investigating.”
After reaching out to local superintendents and pitching the idea, Dr. Favre said she is now hearing from teachers interested in getting involved in the project. This summer, from June 26 through June 28, those educators will gather at Bridgehampton School to formalize a curriculum that could be implemented as early as September.
Dr. Favre said the hope is at the end of the session there is a fall unit of study for kindergarten through eighth grades. Each district that participates will be asked to send teachers to help with the effort, with each teacher assigned to a grade level, and at the end of the session any school that is involved should have a complete fall curriculum for each grade to work with.
“These lessons will not focus solely on nutrition,” said Dr. Favre. “They will be a variety of science-based lessons that cross curriculum areas, including stories, mathematics and the social studies and history of the area.”
“It is important for our students to understand where they came from, and where we are going, in terms of a society and the importance of understanding a circle of life,” she added. “Eating healthy, buying locally, supporting the community, understanding the science and math behind the growing of food, and marketing, going green, recycling and much more can all be worked into these lessons.”
The impact of having a classroom engaged in an edible garden is already evident at Bridgehampton. Almost all of the students in Bridgehampton’s high school botany class expressed interest in a field related to agriculture outside of the classroom whether it was engineering, mechanics, economics or science.
“It’s also character building,” said teacher Patrick Aiello. “This whole greenhouse was put up by volunteers. Our students help build it, so it has the potential to touch on all aspects, not just growing plants.”
While they will not be a part of the formal curriculum writing, Slow Food East End Edible Garden Coordinators — funded through the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation – have also expressed interest in lending a hand towards the effort, said Carmack-Fayyaz.
“This has a lot to do with life lessons as well,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “You reap what you sow. You have to nurture things. Things take time. If you put the effort in you will get a reward and that translates into your whole educational experience. If you don’t put in the effort, you won’t get anything back. This is a life laboratory. It’s not just academics.”