By Laura Houston
The parents and students of Sag Harbor Elementary School have a chance to get their hands dirty this spring as the Eco-Walk, an educational garden and walkway at the school, begins phase two of its ongoing development.
This year the top priority for the Eco-Walk is to provide students with the resources to produce a harvest of vegetables and herbs that they can cook and sell. The profits will be used to support the continued growth of the Eco-Walk.
“This year is all about planting and production,” explains Eco-Walk co-founder Ed Bruehl. “We want to see a true seed to table curriculum, where [science teacher] Kryn Olson can take the kids from the greenhouse, to the ground, all the way to harvest.”
Last year, the major foundational work for the project was laid after an initial fundraising event raised $15,000 in start up capital and local business, like Whitmores, Summerhill Landscaping and Seven Sons Landscaping, all rallied around the project by donating plants, trees, tractors, bulldozers, seeds and man power to prep the area in August.
As with all things outdoors, fall came and the land went dormant, giving founders Ed Bruehl, Sam Panton and Heather Saskas a chance to re-group and plan their spring schedule. Now, with warmer weather and warmer soil, community members, parents and students have been gathering at the Eco-Walk every Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. to expand the plantable area. With donations of compost, topsoil and pure mulch the volunteers have dug a new 150-by-4 foot bed and three 8-by-8 foot plots.
“We need these big plots of land for the kids to plant in,” explains Bruehl. “It is great, the parents do the heavy lifting and digging, getting dirty and sweaty, so the kids can come drop the seeds in the ground. This is what it’s all about.”
To oversee the project through the summer, Jeff Negron has come on board as the Eco-Walk’s resident organic farmer. According to Bruehl, Negron is planning on at least two plantings this year. A first harvest of beans, peas, radishes and other spring vegetables that will be ready to harvest in June and a second planting of summer vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini and peppers ready to harvest in August and September when the students are back in school.
As for the future, Bruehl hopes that the project will continue to be supported by parents and community members.
“The real raw success of the project is seeing people get involved and understanding the real value of it,” says Bruehl.
Though currently on the elementary school campus, the vision for the Eco-Walk is that it become a community space open to and used by all — and that it will one day extend across Jermain Avenue onto the Pierson campus, connecting the schools in a unified community experience.
A benefit fundraiser for the Eco-Walk takes place on Friday, May 6 at B. Smiths on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor from 8 p.m. to midnight. The evening includes a silent auction, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment by Home Town Sweethearts. Tickets are $50 in advance, $65 at the door and the proceeds will go towards buying seeds, tools and solar panels for the Eco-Walk. To reserve visit www.localecoworks.org.