The basil garden at Bradford School is grown for the annual school-wide Pesto Fest. (See more photos, below.)
The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) in partnership with the Partners for Health Foundation and the Montclair PTA Council has announced the launch of a district-wide school garden initiative, Montclair DIGS! (District Initiative for Gardening in our Schools).
Montclair DIGS is an opportunity for each Montclair school to start, maintain or enhance an existing school garden. School gardens have been a part of the American school system since the 1800s (Click here for historical information on school gardens) and part of the Montclair Public Schools for the past decade.
“Several schools have had successful school gardens for years,” said Sarah Vogel, who along with Sabina Ernst serves as coordinators of the program. “The idea for DIGS started about seven years ago when gardeners from different schools got together to talk about developing a unified program. Unfortunately, it never launched, but the idea has been laying ‘dormant’ waiting for the right time to ‘sprout.’”
That time is now, said Lois Whipple, MFEE executive director. “MFEE was looking for a way to advance the existing efforts across the district in conjunction with Montclair’s Partners for Health. Together, we came up with a way to provide funding to support these living classrooms.”
The initiative is in experienced hands, under the direction of Montclair residents Vogel and Ernst. Vogel is a professional landscape designer, and gardener. She has designed improvements of the Glenfield Middle School and Montclair High School landscapes, including the newly landscaped area in the High School’s Chestnut Street horseshoe. Ernst is a graduate of the Essex County Master Gardener program and an avid home gardener. She has run the Bradford School garden program for several years and has been instrumental in reinvigorating the vegetable gardening plots at Renaissance Middle School at the Rand building.
“We are excited that each school will now have the resources to start a school garden,” said Ernst. “The new focus on collaboration between gardeners at the schools and idea sharing will bring a new element to the gardens and will enrich everyone’s program.”
“We are also very excited that children will be able to eat the produce grown in the garden as long as it is grown according to DIGS guidelines and washed properly,” she continued. “In addition, the gardens will also provide opportunities for children to share vegetables they have grown and to build bridges with the larger Montclair community through donations to local food banks and soup kitchens.” Added Whipple, “This is a wonderful school-community initiative with benefits that will be far reaching, including as a learning experience for our students.”
These “outdoor classrooms” will serve to tie gardening into all aspects of the curriculum – math, science, language arts, art and physical education. In fact, Ernst says, it could become an even more integral part of a student’s education. “Princeton Schools have a dedicated weekly garden time during the school day. I would love to see our district implement something like that in the future. Gardening could become another ‘related art’.”
Each school that wishes to maintain a school garden can apply for funding through DIGS. Approved programs will be eligible to receive $1,500 over the first two years and will then be able to apply for yearly sustaining grants.
Any parent who wants to get involved with their school garden should contact the garden volunteer at their child’s school (see list below). “There is much work to be done in any garden,” said Vogel. “Even inexperienced gardeners are welcome.”
For more information and to find the names of each school’s coordinator, contact the MFEE at email@example.com; or DIGS coordinators Ernst: firstname.lastname@example.org and Vogel: email@example.com.
Below: A young farmer stands in the “Three Sisters Garden,” which consists of corn, beans, and squash using a traditional Native American method of planting.
Below, First graders harvesting lettuce and, at bottom, Bradford’s woolly pocket gardens have lettuce and radishes growing in them.