Sustainable Jersey: From New Jersey public school gardens to your table

Posted on by Renee Haider, Associate Director, Sustainable Jersey

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Long Branch Public School students practice agripreneurship

Although school is out for summer, a group of students in Monmouth County are hard at work harvesting vegetables and herbs to sell at the local farmers market.

Long Branch Public School students from the School-to-Work program are selling a bounty of produce at the West End Farmers’ Market, while learning important business and nutritional lessons. Zucchini, squash, basil, green beans, oregano, rosemary, chives, mint, parsley and beets are some of the recent crops for sale.

Long Branch Public Schools use the school gardens to incorporate job skills training into the special education curriculum by teaching students how to create and sell products. Some of these students have unique challenges in the classroom, so being able to use the garden as an outside classroom has had great results and the student response has been very positive.

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“Our students are gaining real life experience in agripreneurship as they sell the school garden produce at the farmers market,” said Diego DeAssis, the Long Branch Public Schools Social and Environmental Sustainability Officer. “I have definitely seen how our students find that the experience changes their perceptions of where food comes from, and what it takes to produce it.” Because the kids get to taste what they grow, the overwhelming conclusion is that the fruits and vegetables are good, which should lead to future healthy eating habits.

School District Hires a Sustainability Officer

This year, Long Branch Public Schools stepped up their commitment to sustainability and traditional gardening by allocating funds for the provision of a sustainability officer. Mr. DeAssis is the Long Branch Public Schools Social and Environmental Sustainability Officer. It is a long title, but an inspired move on the part of the school district to create a position for someone to oversee implementation and communication of the sustainability initiatives the district is doing. After spending two years in North Carolina operating his own family farm business, Mr. DeAssis returned to the District to lead their sustainability program. He has been working hard in the gardens with the students and their teachers this summer.

The Long Branch Public School District is a leader in sustainability. All nine schools have achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification and two schools–George L. Catrambone Elementary School and Long Branch Middle School–were each recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Green Ribbon School.

School Gardens Enrich Learning in Nine Schools

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In addition to the School-to-Work students, the gardens provide benefits to all of the students in the district. Each school has a student green team that designs, outlines, plants, waters and collects the harvest. To help with this work, the school district coordinated with the non-profit, Providing Hope. The outdoor garden classrooms allow students to learn lessons—not just about nutrition, but also about science and math, even business skills. The school gardens were extended this summer with the help of summer school staff and students.

The lessons related to the garden within the classes of Long Branch High School varied based on the course level. For example, the Biology students focused their lessons on testing seed germination and the factors that may affect it. The students conducted their own experiments to get a first look at what affects plant growth and photosynthesis. The Environmental Science students go further in depth to discuss the different type of garden plans and how best to make them sustainable and still have high yields.

Aeroponic Greenhouse Enables Gardening All Year

When the fall harvest draws to a close, the gardening focus will shift to the indoor mobile units to keep the production and learning experiences going throughout the year. In 2016, Joseph M. Ferraina Childhood Learning Center received a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey grant funded by the New Jersey Education Association for a 1,000-plant aeroponic greenhouse that was installed with district matching funds. Students from across the district work in the greenhouse as part of the curriculum.

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Educating children about where food comes from and how they can and should take responsibility for their own good health now and in the future, is an invaluable lesson. Mr. DeAssis said, “Our School-to-Work students are becoming increasingly invested in the project. The school gardens have afforded the opportunity for them to learn new skills and understand the value of sustainability.” Sustainable Jersey for Schools applauds this effort; we look forward to seeing what these students will accomplish next!

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