Greens Farms Academy is a PreK-12, coed school in Westport, CT

Summer Learning in the Garden

By Dr. Heather Heenehan (US Faculty, Sustainability Coordinator)

Last spring, just as the year was wrapping up, my seniors in the Advanced Inquiry in Human Ecology and Sustainability planted tomatoes with the kindergarteners in our organic garden. It was one of those magical moments that I love so much in a pre-K-12 school with living and learning outdoor classrooms like the garden, the apiary, the marsh, and the beach. During this scheduled “tomato planting session” not everyone did the same job or did so at the same pace. In fact we had some surprise melons, peppers and other things show up to the party to plant which certain groups adopted quite quickly, taking rather serious charge of these fruits and vegetables. One group decided they didn’t want to plant but instead thought that they would get all of their energies out weeding, and it was A LOT of energy. Another group spent a very long time trying to remove something from the corner of one of the beds. I don’t remember what it was but I do remember the sounds from the corner of the garden as they struggled and ultimately succeeded in their task. Other teams marveled at the worms, and pill bugs and other critters, taking time to watch them crawl in their hands and in the soil. Some teams worked like a well oiled machine and planted multiple beds worth of different types of tomatoes. The kindergartners found themselves walking back and forth to pick their next plant or put the weeds in the bucket, they showed the seniors things that they thought were just about the coolest things ever, the seniors listening to their stories, laughing as they shared about their days and their work in the garden.             

This summer, there were quite a few GFA students who volunteered their time to help in the garden over the summer. I also had the help of my fellow faculty and staff members from all across campus and from all of the divisions. We couldn't have kept the garden going and growing without this team effort. They helped plant, weed, harvest and tend to all the plants, including all of those tomatoes. Throughout the summer we coordinated our efforts in google doc, shared resources about tomato suckers, and how to harvest greens like kale and chard properly.
The students that spent the most time in the garden this summer were the 6th and 8th graders in the Horizons at GFA program. I was lucky to connect with Monique Rutledge before the six-week summer program began and got myself added to the enrichment schedule once a week to work with those two grades. On my last Thursday working with Horizons one of the students from the 6th grade group ended our final session with a thank you and a little clap salute. She spoke for the group and thanked me for helping them learn in the garden, learn about plants and have fun! This is precisely what I endeavored to do in what I referred to as my “Miss Frizzle”-esque sessions with the 6th and 8th grade groups throughout the month of July. During our sessions we embarked on iPad enabled plant scavenger hunts, we learned about the plants the bees collect food from through the honeyDNA results, we enjoyed the smell of the essential oils and the tastes of all the herbs around campus, and we searched for perfectly ripe tomatoes and strawberries each time we entered the garden together. 

Now there is another group of students at the Food Equity and Economic Development (FEED) Center in Bridgeport, CT, who are working with the harvest from our garden in the CREATE Program. With the assistance of the Westport Community Gardens Grow-A-Row initiative and the partnership of Amy Unikewicz JellyFever,

We were able to donate more than 30 bags of produce to the FEED Center throughout the summer. 

According to their website, "The Center for Food Equity and Economic Development (FEED), a division of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, builds community wealth through innovative food-based initiatives. FEED is focused on economic development based initiatives within the food industry that build assets and wealth within the Bridgeport community by providing culinary training to low-income residents for food industry employment and entrepreneurial ventures through our successful CREATE program; operating a shared-use commercial kitchen program offering low-cost rental space through SEEK; delivering fresh produce and products to Bridgeport Neighborhoods in our FEED Mobile Marketplace; and, creating meals, products and catering from recovered produce through FEED Enterprises." 

I don’t know the story of every tomato, kale leaf, green bean, zucchini or kohlrabi we donated but I do know that our gardens, the work that went into them throughout the year and summer, and our bountiful harvests mattered this summer and continue to matter as we continue to learn and harvest. I never expect every student or every person to have the same experience in the garden but I do know that everyone walks away from the garden and it’s bounty with something new. There are so many different ways to enjoy the garden and learn from it and the lower school students always remind me of that. They also remind me, that there are so many different jobs in the garden and that each is important and essential to its success. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped with the work in the garden. You made and continue to make our donations (some pictured below) to the FEED Center possible. 

Big thank you to those students that helped: From the upper school, Katie Gabriele, Mary Kessler, Molly Duffy, Alison Bouchard, Hannah Shairer, and Camille Ewing and from the middle school, Alexis Campbell. And a big thank you to the faculty and staff that assisted: Sofi Kurtz and Ginger Brooker (LS), Michele Ames, Jackie Woods and Mattheo Dulac (MS) Tom Barry and Damian (Grounds).

P.S. If you haven't taken a look at our organic garden, check it out on your next walk to the Audubon, the Softball and Baseball Fields, or the tennis courts. 

P.P.S. If you are interested in helping with our work in the garden please let Dr. H. know (hheenehan@gfacademy.org)!