New community garden members Jeff Hand, Ninfa Boyd, Jeffrey Neubauer and Christine Harrison worked alongside garden administrator Judiann Carmack (2nd from right) to prepare their Early Spring Garden plot at the Bridgehampton School on Tuesday, April 2.
By Amanda Wyatt
This spring, Bridgehampton School is sowing the seeds of a brand-new venture — a community-based garden.
With its lush outdoor gardens and greenhouse, the school has spent the past few years building up its very own edible schoolyard, at the forefront of a movement throughout the East End to bring agriculture back into the curriculum as an experiential education model.
In Bridgehampton, and other school districts, the edible garden has been used as a tool in teaching students about botany and nutrition, as well as providing fresh food in the school café.
But with limited time and resources, tending to edible schoolyards can often be challenging for schools, particularly in the summer months when students and teachers are off. Bridgehampton seems to have found a solution.
For the first time, the school is offering small garden plots to faculty, staff, parents and other members of the community. Those who sign on — for a fee of $20 — will get their own four by eight foot wood box for planting.
“Part of our deal, though, is that if you have a box, you’re also taking on [the upkeep of] a section of the garden. The weeding for the rest of the garden is a lot,” said Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, a Bridgehampton School teacher and chair of Slow Food East End, at the greenhouse on Saturday morning.
It’s an idea inspired by a similar community garden in the Hampton Bays school district.
“They weren’t having the same kind of maintenance issues that a lot of other gardens have, so I thought that the solution to the problem was to create a community garden with it,” Carmack-Fayyaz said.
“I think that’s going to be the wave of the future, because of the issue of summer and how teachers are not in session,” she explained. “So by creating that community model, you take care of the summer months so that the garden is being tended and so there’s that continuous operation.”
“I wasn’t sure what kind of response we would have, and I figured I would throw it out to the faculty, staff and parents…But it’s a great response. We have [around] 10 boxes that are taken and I haven’t even publicized it to parents,” she said, noting that just a handful of boxes are now available.
“Ideally, we can expand it, and maybe it’s better to start small and gain momentum,” she added.
At a recent board of education meeting, Dr. Lois Favre, the district superintendent, said the preliminary response to the initiative has been strong.
“People are up on this idea of helping to create a community garden back there,” said Dr. Favre, who has purchased a plot herself.
Several other faculty and staff members have signed up, including Ninfa Boyd, a teacher assistant.
“I just love plants,” she said while volunteering in the greenhouse on Saturday.
Boyd added that she hopes to plant garlic, onions, tomatoes and cilantro — vegetables and herbs that are staples of her cooking.
Of course, Boyd — whose parents had at one time been subsistence farmers in Mexico — knows her way around a garden. Still, for those who don’t have green thumbs quite yet, purchasing a box can be a learning experience.
“Part of the community garden is that we’ll have little classes,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “There will be a class on seed starting and planting your box.”
Besides, she added, part of the fun of a community garden is the social aspect; gardeners can learn from each other as they go along.
“I really would like to become almost a social thing, as well, because that’s how it becomes successful,” she said.
She added that participants in the community garden will begin planting their boxes later this month. While the frost date in our area is May 20, she said, cool-weather crops, such as certain lettuces, can be grown earlier. At the end of May or early June, gardeners can begin planting warm-weather crops.
Between tending to an individual box and helping out with the larger garden, participants are committing themselves to at least a couple of hours of work per week.
“Once you get into it, it’s like a little child. You want to check up on it,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “Or you might want to come and get something to eat. The beauty of keeping it local and community-based is that it’s easy to pop by and do that.”
And this is basically the purpose of a community garden—to change the way that people eat. If people can grow their own food, they will always have access to fresh, organic produce, she said.
“It is expensive and when you’re struggling — and a lot of people are struggling — you’re not going to go to the farm stand, necessarily, or go to buy the organic produce at the grocery store,” Carmack-Fayyaz added. “So unfortunately, until food subsidies change, this is a fabulous, fabulous way of helping people eat well.”