By Cheryl Conway
Something new is growing in town and it has students eating healthier and making better choices.
Although dormant for the winter, the Tinc Road School Garden has had two great harvests so far. Once the snow is gone, students and teachers are looking forward to adding six more beds to the spring harvest.
Named the Golden Garden through a student majority vote, the new garden at Tinc Rd. School has been providing the elementary students with a hands-on learning experience about growing vegetables.
“We are trying to encourage healthier eating,” says Daniella McDonald, PTO member and chair of the Green Committee, such as having children choose “apples over the French fries.” McDonald says “The kids who grow and harvest their own food are more likely to try it. Kids are picky. They’re enthusiastic to see what a seed turns into.”
The idea for the garden stems from the PTO’s Green Committee and the Tinc Rd. School Principal Dr. Richard Fair. The role of the Green Committee is to encourage recycling and the garden program.
“We hoped to change the students’ attitude towards food, teaching them to make better choices,” says McDonald. “We gave them an opportunity to grow and eat their own vegetables and hopefully encouraged them to choose whole, natural foods over processed snack food.”
The Golden Garden- located in a sunny spot behind the school near the bus circle- began with its first harvest in the spring 2013. About five volunteers helped to build it and then some room moms helped to seed and harvest the garden. The students planted and harvested lettuce, spinach and radishes and some classes had “salad parties” with the produce they picked, says McDonald.
In June, the fourth graders planted a Three-Sisters garden in two of the beds which connected them to their Social Studies lessons about the Lenape Indians in New Jersey, and science lesson on companion planting and how plants work together when they grow. The 5th and 4th grades harvested the Three-Sisters garden together in the fall and “brought to life what they learned in the classroom,” says McDonald.
Over the summer, volunteers watered and weeded six raised beds that measured four feet by eight feet long and in September, the students harvested several varieties of beans, squash, pumpkins, chard and corn.
This upcoming spring, organizers are looking into expanding the garden and adding six more beds. McDonald says the goal is to consider planting “something quick growing that can harvest before school ends in June.”
The garden has been a community effort with support from the PTO and school administrators, says McDonald.
“I love the idea of the garden,” says Dr. Richard Fair, school principal. “It gives the students a “hands-on” opportunity to see how their education regarding plant growth works in real life and real time.
“The garden was absolutely a positive experience for students and staff alike,” says Fair. “I am very appreciative of all the parents that pitched in and made the garden project work so well. It is a wonderful example of school and community working together to provide a rich and authentic learning experience for our students.”
Financial support came from the community as well. The Tinc Rd. School PTO was awarded two grants to support its garden program.
Margaret Noon, President of Slow Food NNJ and a farm owner in Budd Lake, awarded $800 worth of materials in the fall of 2012 and has served as an advisor to the PTO suggesting what types of seeds to plant. The PTO used these funds to purchase a Deer fence, three raised beds and soil.
Whole Foods awarded a $2,000 grant in the spring of 2013 to will help sustain the program another year and expand the garden with more beds and a small, portable green house so students can start seedlings earlier in the year.
Other donations came from Tim Quinn, director of Public Works in Mt. Olive, who gave wood chips that surround the beds; and Struble Brothers Landscaping in Hopatcong who gave a truck load of organic soil.
“It’s been a great community effort all around,” says McDonald, who hopes to see the garden grow even more.
“We would like to grow little by little each year,” says McDonald, and try to get more grades involved.
The first and second graders planted seeds in April 2013 that harvested radishes, spinach and carrots in June. The eight classes had “Salad Parties” to enjoy what they grew.
“They were very excited to pick and eat those vegetables,” says McDonald, who has a fifth and second grader at Tinc Rd. School. “There wasn’t one student who didn’t want to try the spinach or a radish. It increased their enthusiasm rather than just having it purchased for them.”
All grade levels can connect the garden to the classroom. First graders learn parts of the plant. They can watch lettuce seeds in a classroom grow in a cup, then plant them in a garden to be harvested, and then eat them.
“You put a seed in the ground, it will grow,” says McDonald who grows her own garden at home. “It’s pretty fascinating. The children just love it. Just learning where your food comes from, that it doesn’t come from a plastic bag, gives them a new perspective on their vegetables.”
Also planned for second graders is a “Veggie Day” where students provide a classroom tasting of various types of fruits and vegetables – some of which will have been harvested from the garden.
For the kindergarten classes, McDonald says the PTO is thinking of arranging a “bean in a bag” lesson so students can learn how bean sprouts open. For third grade, students may connect to the garden program through a science lesson.
The garden is dormant for now, but some experts have visited the school in the interim.
The Tinc Road School nurse has arranged visits from Diane Delany, a nutritionist from Atlantic Health, every six weeks to teach the second grade class about living a healthy lifestyle and making healthier eating choices to “instill good eating habits early.
David Scott, who manages the Goryeb kid-FIT program (Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown) that assists families in making better lifestyle choices through nutrition and fitness, has also visited the school to meet with the PTO The students will then connect what they’ve learned to the garden.
Come the spring, “we will rip old stuff out, buy more soil, refill the beds, get our team together, extend the deer fence, get our grant money together and more beds in there,” says McDonald. “We’re set through the fall of next year.”