Participating students could take their harvest from the garden home to their families, and some of the produce was used in the school cafeteria for the summer school kids.

By Serena Kovalosky
It’s harvest time – just ask the kids at the Whitehall Elementary School, who are reaping what they’ve sown.
A community garden for students called Gardening Railroaders of Whitehall, or GROW, was established in the spring on the grounds of the Whitehall Elementary School. The project was initiated by Sarah Hart, a teacher’s aide, with the help of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, school administrators and teachers, and town supervisor George Armstrong.
“When I first started, I thought it would be hard to get kids interested in growing – and especially eating – vegetables,” Hart admitted. “Most didn’t know where vegetables came from. They never realized they came from the ground.”
Hart had been working on the concept for four years, and it finally took off with Marilyn Borden’s kindergarten class. As word spread, it expanded to include all the kindergarten classes, the entire first grade and the school’s two special needs classes.
One of the goals of the garden was to weave scientific principles into the process to satisfy Common Core requirements. Teachers would “prep” the students with the scientific aspects of planting and growing. Then Linda Law-Saunders of Cornell Cooperative Extension would come in and teach them how to handle the plants and the best time to water them, among other things.
Principal Rich Trowbridge saw the garden’s teaching potential right from the beginning and helped move the project along, providing a starter seed pack from Cornell Cooperative Extension to get the planting started.
Hart said George Armstrong was a major contributor to the project. “We were so grateful for his generous donation of wood to build the raised beds, as well as soil and many of the plants.” she said.
Some of the students made it clear from the very beginning they didn’t like to eat vegetables, but growing their own food somehow made them more receptive. Hart arranged “salad parties” where the students learned how to pick the lettuce leaves, wash them properly and then rip them up in to bite-sized pieces for their salad.
“When we held our first salad party, they not only enjoyed their very first salad, they actually came back for seconds,” Hart said.
Participating students could take their harvest from the garden home to their families, and some of the produce was used in the school cafeteria for the summer school kids.
School superintendent Patrick Dee said he was “extremely pleased” with the results of the program. “I’ve always been a proponent of bringing the real world into the classroom with hands-on programs,” he said.
Dee came on board as superintendent after the program was already underway and gave it his full support. His is already looking at next year’s plans which will hopefully include a greenhouse.
While it was easy to generate enthusiasm, organizing proved to be a bit of a challenge. “Teachers were already overwhelmed with Common Core goals and tasks and adding something like this for young students had to be carefully planned,” said Hart. “We couldn’t just let the kids loose in the garden – we had to line them up, calm them down, and then explain as we showed them how to properly pick their vegetables. It was quite a process.”
Hart is already planning next year’s garden. She has been invited to present her project in faculty meetings for both the elementary school and the Whitehall High School.
“I want to expand the concept to include all students of all ages,” she said. “We want to reach out to home economics classes as well as science classes who could create projects that would facilitate vertical farming, for example.”
Hart added: “It is my hope that the kids will talk with their parents about their gardening experience and perhaps that will inspire them to want to create their own garden.”



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