The GFS Kitchen Garden Club, an after-school activity for second- to fifth-graders, uses raised beds built in a school courtyard about nine years ago as part of a curriculum for kindergartners, said Melissa Gryspeerdt, a parent who learned about gardening as a child in New Zealand. The idea is to teach the children not only how to grow food but to harvest it and cook it, with inspiration from Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard project and the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program in Australia.
But there's more.
"We're trying to teach them about recycling and repurposing stuff, like our watering rainmakers made out of old Vitamin Water bottles. It just also means we don't let them loose with a hose and it's controlled watering," Gryspeerdt said with a laugh.
On a recent day, Gryspeerdt was standing near the garden's bamboo stick teepee, around which little bean seedlings were planted, while children bustled about. Molly Belknap watered the peas while her mother, Christie Belknap, showed the kids how to make zucchini pancakes using a propane camp stove set on a picnic table. Chores for the children included tossing waste into compost bins made of wooden pallets retrieved from the town's transfer station.
"I just like planting the different seeds and stuff and I like watering them," said 10-year-old Colin Daines. Colin said he has started a garden at home with his parents, and is growing tomatoes and "a lot of flowers and vegetables."
Colin's mom, Liz Daines, also helps with the club.
The club is using raised beds that have been neglected for seven or eight years, Greens Farms library media specialist Nicole Moeller said. "It wasn't cared for very much after the planting," she said, as the curriculum changed and it was no longer relevant.
Gryspeerdt said she approached Greens Farms Principal John Bayers and other school leaders in September with the idea of using the abandoned garden for the first time in years. Having gained the support of the Board of Education and Superintendent Elliot Landon, parents and members of the SLOBS (Staples Service League of Boys) began working on the plots in April when the snow finally melted.
The SLOBS dug down six or seven inches in the beds now sprouting plants, and fathers used pick axes to dig rocks out from the area that would become the teepee.
There was a surprise -- yesteryear's kindergartners had implanted stepping stones on the site, which were covered with grass. They've all since been cleared off and define the space.
Moeller said those former students are probably sophomores at Staples now.
Today's Greens Farms students have been learning to enhance the soil and create garden signs, in addition to the fun work of putting in seedlings and watering them, Gryspeerdt said. She hopes that they will be able to harvest salad greens and radishes before the school year ends, and come back through the summer to tend what they have started.
Gryspeerdt, a landscape architect, said she is happy to pass along the organic gardening skills.
"My grandfather was a wonderful gardener, and my parents, I learned a lot from them. I don't think you ever stop learning, actually," she said.
Now, she said, "Teaching them essential skills in cooking and gardening is rather fun."