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NE - Brooklyn Arts and Science Center

Booklyn, New York

A garden grows in Brooklyn when WKF funds spark media interest

"The Whole Kids Foundation grant we received in Spring 2014 provided the literal seed money for what the National Gardening Association (NGA), a Vermont-based non-profit dedicated to the building and support of schoolyard gardens, calls 'the Mercedes-Benz of School Gardens,'" says PS705 garden coordinator Jenny Gage. The school shares a building with EXCEED Charter School, and both participated in the school garden development and enjoyment.

The school parents who sought and won the grant next approached the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (BBG) on how to start a school garden from the ground up. That marked the beginning of a flurry of media attention when the BBG told the NGA about the school project. Then NBC's TODAY Show sponsored PS705 for a "Crowdrise" fundraiser.

"The short version is that over the course of a week in May, our school received all the necessary supplies, plants, and support to build a spectacular garden with more than 40 raised beds and tree pits, irrigation, trellises, composters, a shed, and supplies," marvels Jenny.

Next the school planned the purchase of seeds and starters, along with grow lights and other supplies needed to develop a seed incubator/greenhouse. The "kids from both schools (will share this), in part to help raise their sense of ownership and excitement about THEIR garden," Jenny says.

Five-year-old Vivi chimes in her support. "There are flowers and your teacher can bring you out there with clipboards and books for you to make pictures of them. It's also fun to know how food is made. I learned about kale chips. They're yummy!"

One of the school's top achievements was simply creating such an expansive garden. The success is due largely to the dedication and hard work of the PTA steering committee.

The garden served as a positive jumping-off point for discussion on "science and wellness curriculums among grownups, and healthy eating and fun(!) in the garden among kids," Jenny says. "At PS705, we've made a further investment in a Wellness in the Schools (WITS) program that has had immediate impact on the quality, variety, and freshness of foods served in the school cafeteria."

Here in the heart of the city the garden flourishes and is a catalyst for learning, as a way for the students to employ all of their senses and make discoveries.

"Our garden is built to encourage touching, smelling, tasting, and relaxing," asserts Jenny. "Our main teaching area is a square that opens out into the main garden, shaded by an apple tree and surrounded by fragrant herbs, and furnished with a ladybug carpet and benches….Select classes have been able to take part in cooking demos that are focused on making tasty, seasonal food with ingredients that they first observe growing in the garden," she adds.

The creation of the garden inspired collaboration between PS705 and EXCEED, a welcome by-product of the program. The entire community—school staff, teachers, parents "are deeply invested in and in love with our garden," says Jenny. "It helps all of us to come together, and to play nicely."