By Chad Devoe
Groton Central School, Groton, NY
Groton Central School is a rural district in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, with an enrollment of about 1,000 students. 2010 represented the third growing season for the GCS “Student Farm”. A year prior to its inception, we started a school-wide composting program (“Rot-in-Groton”) and composted on-site behind the school.
People started asking what would be done with the finished compost and a school garden seemed like the logical answer so students could see and take part in the complete recycling loop. We started with a 25’ x 25’ plot of grass that was roto-tilled into a decent garden. It was a rough and weedy start but it paved the way for future improvements. The garden attracted many volunteers since this was (and still is) the only community garden in Groton.
“Rot-in-Groton” Composting Video (dated back a few years)
Teachers and students volunteered their time as well as the Groton Girl Scout Troop, Rotary Club, and Youth Department to improve this valuable asset. Some produce was (and still is) used at the student-run Groton Farmer’s Market. Most produce, however, is planned so that harvest occurs in spring and fall so as much food as possible is used in the school cafeteria, offering students fresh and local organic produce at no additional charge to them. This year we are providing lettuce, spinach, garlic, melons, string beans, peas, winter/summer squash, beets, corn, potatoes, peppers, onions, and tomatoes to the cafeteria. Our food service director is very supportive and appreciative of our efforts since he is a gardener himself. Some preparation will be done by study hall students this year to minimize any extra work for the food service workers. This is a great learning experience in itself.
After two successful growing seasons, it was time for an expansion of the garden so that we could make a larger impact on cafeteria food choices. Clean Air-Cool Planet’s Community Catalyst Fund helped bring about major improvements this year including a 20’ hoop house so we could extend our growing season by at least two months, a garden expansion to 45’ x 45’ with 23 raised beds, a new fence and gate, and the beginning of a fruit orchard. Additionally, the high school has added a 1/2 year science/health elective titled “Food, Land, and You”.
This spring-semester class will focus on gardening and our food supply through the lens of sustainability. Funding will go towards purchasing supplies for this hands-on class including canning materials, fresh produce and ingredients for healthy cooking recipes, and seeds. These improvements would not have been possible without this funding! Future plans are to expand the fruit orchard, establish a bed of asparagus, and further integrate garden-based education into the curriculum.