By Melissa Lynch
The Sag Harbor Elementary School has finally completed its outdoor classroom — the long anticipated greenhouse — and now plants are ready for picking.
Kryn Olson, the school’s science coordinator, has been working on creating the greenhouse for students for five years. Olson first approached the Sag Harbor Educational Foundation (SHEF) for a grant to help build what she envisioned as an outlet for students to learn about agriculture by growing plants for local food pantries and soup kitchens. Olson notes that SHEF offered to triple her request of $10,000 to $30,000 but in the end Olson believes it could be that well over $100,000 worth of donated time, materials and money from the community has gone into the greenhouse.
The new greenhouse, which is located behind the elementary school, is built to withstand rough weather conditions including snow and high winds per the state’s mandate for structures the students occupy. Eventually, enough funds were raised and finally last year, work began with volunteers from the community leveling the ground and digging the necessary trenches for the plants. In recent months, Olson and some of the students worked to start the first batch of plants in the greenhouse. This week, when the students return to school, they will be able to harvest the fruits and vegetables of the summer’s labors. Once school starts, every grade will have a different task in the greenhouse.
“The possibilities are endless,” said Olson who eventually plans to have the elementary school students doing the planting with middle schoolers harvesting and high schoolers working on distribution.
“Kids are learning about soils, mulch and acidic levels,” added Olson who also believes the greenhouse is inspirational in other areas such as creating new vocabulary for students’ journal entries and poems. She notes that the garden also encourages diverse art projects and creates more subjects on which to base drawings and paintings.
Students Sarah and Adam Jannetti helped work in the garden this past spring and summer and it has inspired them to build a garden of their own at home where they are growing different herbs and tomatoes.
“I’ve been helping water plants and learn about chlorophyll and glucose levels in the flowers,” Sarah, nine, said excitedly when asked about the greenhouse.
“I’m excited to go back to school and see what we’ve grown because we planted too late and our peas had not grown yet,” said Ben Kushner who mulched and cleaned the rocks over the summer.
Olson explained that the students practice a spiral curriculum which means that every year information is added to the lessons of the year before so that by the end of grade five the children will have a greater understanding of all aspects of botany.
Olson notes that this continual learning program is also adapted into all different subjects in her classes. She brings in fruit and vegetables and offers them to students to smell, touch and taste. Sometimes, Olson roasts them, makes soups or allows students to make prints of the plants with paint. She believes that children can sometimes be fearful to try unknown fruits and vegetables and by bringing them into the classroom, the kids can have a close-up look and taste of them.
Myles Stokowski, who is going into fourth grade, said that he has written about the garden and is really excited to see the plants grow. Olson is also looking forward to that. She believes the students who haven’t visited the greenhouse this summer will be shocked when they see how much the plants have grown.
Last weekend, stumps were put in the ground outside the greenhouse in the form of a semi-circle to create a reading area for students. Future plans include adding archways and possibly a gazebo that the high school shop class will put together.
All and all, Olson who grew up on farmlands in the Midwest, is pleased to finally see her dream become reality.
“It is part of what I am and what I hoped would become a part of the community,” she said. “I am just a rookie gardener with a dream.”