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NA - Bennet Academy

Manchester, Connecticut

A bountiful harvest is shared among the growers and with their community

A little organization and a lot of enthusiasm go a long way, and when it comes to a school garden, it's the foundation for success.

Bennet Academy, a school of 6th grade students, received a grant from Whole Kids Foundation that provided funds to build 15 lush garden beds, a greenhouse, and gardening tools. All of the beds are wheelchair- and handicapped accessible, allowing everyone to enjoy and explore them.

Eight of the beds are manned by the students appointed to the school Beautification Committee. The group meets to weed, plant, and maintain the crops and the beds, which include many plants including herbs and several kinds of berries. All produce grown in these beds is served in the cafeteria and enjoyed by students. During the summer, it's sold at the farmers market held weekly next to school grounds. Money raised goes to a local organization in need—whoever the students choose. The rest of the produce is donated to a local homeless shelter. 

The seven additional beds in the Bennet garden are the responsibility of teams assigned to them. 70-75 students are divided into teams (one per bed), with three teachers heading up each. Planting, maintaining, and harvesting produce offer seeds for learning, and help to round out topics within the school curriculum.

As garden coordinator Lori W. Swanbon elaborates, "Science--soil testing, composting units; Math--area, radius, volume, mass; Social Studies--plants from different cultures, how it has impacted the United States; and Language Arts--bringing the gardens into literature, for example: Seedfolks (HarperCollins, 1997), a story about a neighborhood who comes together as a result of a community garden built in a vacant lot" show how creatively the gardening process can integrate across disciplines. Physical education is included as well, to "teach the kids about healthy diet and exercise, and most important, making choices that remain with them throughout their lives," says Lori.

Bennet students have also been hard at work with a compost program. Each of the teams in charge of the latter seven beds works in the school cafeteria for a month, determining how food leftovers will be used for compost. Red wiggler worms, raised in the classrooms, are a vital ingredient in the mix. Once they've been added and have helped to break down the ingredients in the compost, the nutrient-rich mixture is added to fortify all of the school beds.

"Students now are taking ownership of the foods they eat," says Lori. "Better concentration, weight loss and more exercise in the students have been noticed by staff. I believe this is due in part to the composting program, where students were seeing what foods break down and what foods do not, and relating it to what they are putting into their own bodies."

The students haven't been shy about voicing their excitement about the program, either. From "I've always hated vegetables until I ate the ones from our garden," to "I never knew working this hard could be this much fun," the learning and wonder are proof positive.