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MA - Pepper Middle School

Philadelphia, PA

Teamwork is the ingredient that makes a successful garden

When a school reports that grant money toward their garden project was successful, it's always rewarding to hear. But when the project is extensive and the success is due to many hands, it's even better.

The Pepper Middle School garden project (affectionately called "Pepper Pride Garden") was created as an outdoor classroom that would work in conjunction with other subjects. And after school, three times a week, the Rebel Gardeners club maintains the area, harvests, and prepares dishes made with produce picked.

Pepper Pride includes "20 raised beds, a two-bin compost system, berry bushes, and an orchard of about 10 fruit trees," says garden coordinator Jarrett Stein. The school was also able to purchase garden tools, seeds, and mushoom compost, which fortified the garden soil. The latter generated student interest in the nature and properties of compost, and led to a science-class project: coffee grounds that were used to grow oyster mushrooms, then were used again as compost.

"Ms. Haywood was a science teacher and was the pioneer and trailblazer in the integration of the garden into her students' lessons," Jarrett says. Other teachers and students soon followed suit.

University of Pennsylvania students joined forces with the Rebel Gardeners to work within and around the garden. Design students at the university provided troubleshooting and helped to build garden structures. Pepper does not have an art teacher, due to financial contraints. But the university students used the space as an art studio, and happily worked there with the younger students "sketching, painting, and building various art projects that were then featured throughout the school," says Jarrett, who calls it "an amazing partnership."

But Pepper students can be proudest of the food grown, and of how far-reaching the harvest was. Tending to Pepper Pride reaped a wide and wondrous bounty. It introduced students to "brand new fruits, vegetables, and herbs--their taste as well as how they are grown, harvested, and prepared to eat. We grew a huge variety of different produce with the kids, from ground cherries to sugar snap peas to pomegranate and guava (the first of their kind planted in a Philadelphia school garden!). These experiences provide the foundation for the Pepper community to incorporate healthy eating behaviors in their lives."

The school held two events which celebrated the garden and its lessons. Led by the Rebel Gardeners, students played nutrition games and were guided through other garden-related activities. The club also hosted "a school wide assembly to promote healthy eating, exercise, and sustainability as well as hosted several health events in the garden itself," says Jarrett.

One of the most positive results of the garden is how much it galvanized students. Since the Rebel Gardeners built, planted, maintained, and harvested what the garden produced, it gave them a deep sense of satisfaction and compelled them to pay it forward. "They were…able to teach others about the work they did. It is called the Pepper Pride Garden for a reason; the kids in the school truly care for the space and enjoy immensely their time spent there," Jarrett says.