Opportunity for growth – Grant allows Garfield students to learn gardening in class

They’re swimming in homegrown tomatoes, green beans and many other food crops at the Garfield Middle School this year, as students have taken to developing their green thumb.

Garfield Science teacher Tyler Arlington explained that the school won a three-year grant from the state worth $25,000 per year to conduct a course that teaches students about gardening.

They were one of only 11 schools statewide to get the grant.

The grant, called ‘Green in the Middle,’ is used to fund a class that is an elective class within the Garfield’s Extended Learning Day.

Arlington, and fellow teachers Todd Mefford and Roxanne Campbell, have spent the past semester setting up the program, getting students interested and growing food.

“One of the objectives of the grant was to identify a need or problem area within the district,” said Arlington. “We identified the lack of green space for gardening. We wanted to demonstrate how you could garden in an urban area.”

So far, the class has been a hit – as is evidenced by the tomato, basil, broccoli and other plants growing in the Garfield greenhouse and on the roof playground.

Students in the 7th and 8th grades signed up for the class and immediately began rigging up their greenhouse area to start their plants from seed during the colder months.

Students built riggings, light fixtures, hand-pollinated the plants, studied their structure and figured out the best way to take care of them.

“We’ll have a little bit of everything – potatoes, broccoli, and string beans are already going strong,” said Mefford.

Added Campbell, “I think it’s gone really well. I think kids who knew nothing about gardening before have learned how to grow vegetables from seed and we have tomatoes already.”

Two eighth grade students in the class said they plan to take their experiences to their homes and on to high school. Students have also committed to coming in the summer months to keep their garden tended.

“It’s very educational and at the same time it’s fun,” said Kayla Wright-Nigro. “Now in my house, I’m the only one who takes care of the plants. I’m actually going to probably start a garden of my own at home. I only knew a little bit about gardening before, but now I know a lot.”

Eighth grader Johnathan Marchese said he only knew what his grandma taught him, and now he might have a few tricks to teach her.

“It’s a very good class,” he said. “I knew a little bit from my grandma and now I know how to do daily waterings, how to take proper care of the plants and how to hand pollinate them.”

Students will also take plants home with them and they are charged to teach their parents how they can garden in a small space.

“A lot of them don’t have backyards or are in an apartment or condo and they can show their parents how to grow gardens in window boxes or in containers,” said Campbell.

Added Mefford, “It’s a big initiative in urban areas now to have a container garden. People are wanting to grow their own food now, especially with the E. Coli scares and other things in the food supply.”

Arlington said that the eventual goal is to make the program self-sufficient so the program can continue when the start-up grant expires.

“The big picture plan is for the program to be self-sufficient after the third year,” he said. “One way of doing that is by having plant sales.”

Campbell said they hope to sustain their program by getting involved in the community.

“We’d also like to see if the kids can get involved in the Farmer’s Market on Revere Beach,” she said.

For more information about the program, e-mail Arlington at [email protected].

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