By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
As first graders Edward and Stephanie pull out a carrot from the school garden at Sag Harbor Elementary, their eyes light up.
“Can we eat it?” Edward asks his teacher, Wendy Burokas.
Ms. Burokas nods.
“Okay, but first you have to give it a little scrub,” she says. “Then you two can split it.”
“Half-half!” Stephanie exclaims, grinning.
The two budding gardeners gleefully dash off to find the nearest faucet, toting their carrot like a prize.
A scene like is common at Sag Harbor Elementary School, where the curriculum often includes lessons in planting, watering and weeding their on-campus garden and greenhouse.
In fact, the vegetables, fruit and herbs grown by the children will be featured in the school’s first ever farmer’s market on August 17 at 9 a.m.
“The students will be directly involved in every aspect of running the market,” said Sag Harbor Elementary Principal Matt Malone. “Younger children will work alongside some of the middle school students. From harvest to pricing to the sale to customers, we want the students to experience it all.”
Students attending summer school are excitedly preparing for Friday’s market. This week, they will help gather bunches of produce to sell, make signs and learn about inventory and sales.
School garden coordinator Jeff Negron has overseen the project. Called “Farmer Jeff” by the kids, Negron has also developed gardens at such local restaurants as Estia’s Little Kitchen and Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton.
“I came on board this summer to start intensively growing some crops to bring to the middle school so we can fill the salad bar,” he said.
Recently, Negron received a grant from the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation and Slow Food East End to work extensively with Sag Harbor and several other schools in the area on developing their edible gardens. While he had been volunteering before, the grant funding enables him to spend more hours at the schools.
“This is really where I want to spend more time, teaching the kids,” he said.
Although Negron has been involved for about three years, Sag Harbor Elementary has been working on their garden and greenhouse for roughly a decade. Under the leadership of former Principal Joan Frisicano, science teacher Kryn Olson spearheaded the project.
“[Olson] started out with just a small dream,” Negron explained. “She put the greenhouse in. She laboriously put in the stepping stones around the whole path.”
Still, “the presence of the greenhouse and gardens on our school grounds is the result of a true community effort,” Malone said. “So many families and community members have given their time and financial support to build this wonderful space.”
Negron, who will continue to oversee the garden and greenhouse during the course of the school year, said he hopes to involve the school in everyday garden activities.
“[I’d like] to make sure that every class comes outside, to work in the garden and understand why they are in the garden,” said Negron.
Currently, elementary students in the summer school program are involved in various aspects of the gardening process, from planting and cultivating to harvesting. They also spend time in a special outdoor classroom, which features a blackboard and seats.
“Ms. Olson seizes many opportunities to enrich the science curriculum by bringing students out to the greenhouse and into the gardens,” said Malone.
For example, a new compost system put in by the maintenance team has enabled students to learn about the science of composting. Teachers also use the outdoor classroom for writing workshops, said Malone. The Spanish teacher uses the space to teach nature-related vocabulary words, and math teachers use the garden to teach such concepts as perimeter, area and volume.
“The outdoor classroom and gardens provide infinite possibilities for curricular extensions,” Malone noted.
Serving garden-fresh produce in the cafeteria is another point of pride for the school. “The presence of the gardens provides students the opportunity to learn so much about healthy foods and how to make better choices about what they eat,” said Malone.
“I think it’s an important message—to teach kids about where their food comes from [and] how to grow crops,” Negron agreed. “These are basic life skills that every kid should know.”