Organic Gardens Bring Community Together

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Manhasset Students help garden, with vegetables going to local food pantries in Port Washington. (Contributed photo)

Schools in Manhasset are keeping it green with community gardens provided to them by Planet Manhasset, a group dedicated to growing initiatives around environmentalism in the town.

Planet Manhasset was founded in 2006, after concerned parents wanted to start a Christmas tree recycling initiative. In 2013, they moved on to the cultivation of organic gardens at Munsey Park Elementary, Shelter Rock Elementary and Manhasset Secondary School. Elementary school classes can volunteer to “adopt” the garden for a week, wherein teachers take their students out to weed and harvest vegetables. Parent volunteers then pick up the harvest and deliver it to the food bank at Our Lady of Fatima Church or Bayles Garden Center and Nursery Inc. in Port Washington. The Planet Manhasset gardens are a community effort, and the Manhasset School Community Association (SCA) helps by using some of their budget to aid in garden maintenance like funding the irrigation systems.

“The SCA has always supported Planet Manhasset’s initiatives, and strives to support enrichment opportunities for children during school hours,” said the Planet Manhasset Chairs Becky Rubin and Aimee Rudic, along with Zari Ginsburg, a heavily involved parent on the project.

The goal of these gardens, according to the Manhasset SCA website, is for students to learn the origins and methods of heathier eating and maintaining a healthy environment. Although gardening is usually seen as a fun hobby, it can promote important change in how we consume our food.

“We believe that it is extremely important for children to understand where their food comes from, especially given how much processed food has permeated our diets,” said the Planet Manhasset Chairs and Ginsburg.

The students love to observe the garden grow and are even inspired to garden at their own homes. The Planet Manhasset Chairs and Ginsburg said the children “love seeing how the pea plants are attaching to netting and how the radishes pop up out of the ground when they are ready to eat. These observations are lessons in hands-on gardening that stay with the children.”

Suzanne Mauro, a kindergarten teacher at Shelter Rock Elementary, said that her students wanted to even bring food in from their gardens at home for her to taste. Aside from wanting to expand upon their gardens at home, the students have also been excited to try new foods. Many of the children had not eaten bok choy before they harvested it.

These gardens fit well into the science curriculum at the schools, including activities like the release of classroom caterpillars that have turned into butterflies.

Mauro expanded on the bonding experience that these gardens have also created.

“I enjoy gardening at home, and I was thrilled to share this experience with them. I love taking the children outdoors any chance I get, to experience nature.”

The community response has been overall positive, with many local families getting involved. Some families have even reached out to the SCA to ask about donating the vegetables they have grown at home.

“We love seeing how the gardens are teaching lessons to families about how easy it is to grow food and reminding them to donate any extra to those in need,” said the Planet Manhasset Chairs and Ginsburg.

The SCA wants to promote these gardens as “community” gardens, where students get to learn how to be a part of a collective effort. Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts can also help provide additional opportunities for children to get involved in the community, and the extra aid that the parents and teachers give really makes these spaces feel connected.

-Rachel Dobkin is a contributing writer for Anton Media Group

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