Whether it’s regarded as a hands-on classroom, a healthy resource or just a peaceful place for a mini escape from the fluorescent lights of the indoors, the Hampton Bays community sees its new community garden as a “win-win.”
The Good Ground Community Garden, 18 beds nestled behind the Hampton Bays Middle School, officially opened May 14 and is the first of three phases paid for by the New York State Healthy Places Grant - $1.2 million to be given to the Hampton Bays School District over the next five years through the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The next phases will be to build a greenhouse and a fitness trail on the school grounds, said Joan Moran, a third-grade teacher at Hampton Bays Elementary School who helped spearhead the project.
Moran said students have immediately taken to the garden and classroom activities have helped build anticipation. Before ever stepping foot in the garden, the students participated in workshops on healthy foods and started growing seedlings in their classrooms.
“The goal is to connect them to the food they grow,” she said. “And eventually bring it into the school cafeteria.”
All 18 beds have been rented by community groups for $25 each for the growing season, Moran said, and the students are planting vegetables around the fenced-in perimeter. On Wednesday, as a convenient reprieve from last week’s state testing, the elementary students came out to the garden to plant the vegetables they’d been growing indoors.
Mario Rivera, 9, of Hampton Bays, said his class has been watering its bean plants for the past six weeks and watching them bud in the windowsill. He was excited to finally get them into the dirt and to see the garden he’d heard so much about. He also predicted he’d be back.
“Sometimes, I get the feeling I want to come somewhere where it has flowers and nice stuff,” he said, adding that he wants to eat the beans that he planted one day.
Judy Leopard, who teaches fourth grade special education and worked with Moran on the garden project, said when she teaches her students about colonial America, they are surprised to hear that people grew their own food in the backyard.
“They think it comes from Stop & Shop or King Kullen or Waldbaum’s,” she said. “They really don’t know it comes out of the earth. So even at snack time we try to encourage them to eat healthy. We’ll say if it came off a tree or out of the ground, it’s healthy.”
Leopard said the garden is also in important resource to the community because it’s a spot where students, parents and those without children in the school can all come together.
As the school year comes to an end, teachers will continue to bring students out to the garden to check on the growth of their plants and take care of them. Summer school students will also work in the garden, and community members that have rented beds will have access throughout the growing season.
Christopher Ernst, a fourth grader at Hampton Bays Elementary School, planted his sprouting pepper plant with pride.
“How will I know which one is mine?” he asked his teacher, after carefully patting the dirt around the bright green buds with his fingers.
“That’s the thing about a community garden,” she told him. “It doesn’t matter which one you planted, it’s for everyone.”
Pictured above: Christopher Ernst of Hampton Bays holds a seedling his Hampton Bays Elementary School class grew indoors before planting it in the school's community garden. (May 25, 2011)