P.S. 102 (East Harlem)
The garden at P.S. 102 began as a vision of 3rd grade teacher and sustainability coordinator Vanessa Hefa. When she discovered others who shared her vision, there was no stopping their inevitable growth. "This project was started by teachers. We were dreaming and envisioning that one day we would have this area where we can grow vegetables and serve them in the cafeteria. It started with us and we made it happen. That in itself if powerful!" explains Ms. Hefa.
On their own, they started with some woolly pockets filled with soil tied to a school fence. They were able to expand to three raised beds with the help of a Grow to Learn mini-grant, resources from GreenThumb, and a partnership with City Year. A donation from HonestTea and TerraCycle included a picnic bench, raised bed, bike rack used for woolly pockets, and a garbage can all made from recycled plastic. "Without the collaboration and support of these organizations, there wouldn't be a garden today at P.S. 102." Their principal's support was also key to the garden's growth. "Our principal, Ms. Gittens has giving us the support and resources we need to sustain this garden. She has always advocated for our children to have access to healthy foods," says Ms. Hefa. P.S. 102 is also grateful to a few devoted parents who often stop by to water and clean the garden.
In addition to promoting healthy eating habits, P.S. 102's goals include developing environmental stewardship in their students and helping to beautify their East Harlem community. "We take the learning from the classroom outdoors and teach the kids about ecology, nutrition, science, and civic responsibility to take care of their environment. Also, we use the garden as an area to do yoga in the mornings." Ms. Hefa also aims to bring her personal experiences with food to her students. "For me as a vegan, it is important to teach my kids about the benefits of a plant-based diet. I want to share with them the nutritional value of why eating plants is beneficial, sustainable and better for animals, environment, and the planet."
While they have been working on the project for a year, the first planting outdoors took place this past May. Unexcused from first-year gardening challenges, the garden didn't produce the harvest they were hoping for and contention is growing between the gardeners and squirrels. Beyond this setback they are optimistic that the improvements they plan to make for next season will prove more fruitful.
Leading up to the planting, the students of P.S. 102 were very much involved in the preparation. Seeds were started in the classrooms as part of their Science curriculum and classroom discussions revolved around eating healthy. The classes most involved in this process were PreK-3rd. They hope to include the fourth and fifth graders next year.
Although school is not in session for the summer, P.S. 102 is fortunate to share the building with P.S. 169 who does have a summer program. Their students and staff will help to water and care for the garden. Come fall, P.S. 102 is looking forward to a Garden to Cafe harvest event where students and staff will be able to share a meal and taste the fruits of their labor!