Green thumbs are sprouting up all across The Home’s special education schools, as The COVE School, Clifford Academy and The Wediko School incorporate community gardens into their curriculums and campus experiences this summer. Producing a variety of both flowers and produce, these gardens serve as a valuable tool to help youth learn how to grow, prepare and truly appreciate the food they eat.
For students and staff at The COVE School in Plymouth, the campus garden has been a collaboration from the start. When it came time to build the bed, math students were tasked with determining the appropriate dimensions, which were then passed on to carpentry, and woodshop students created the design together.
According to Vocational Coordinator Beth Christensen, the garden is sometimes the one only gateway that kids have to learn about the origins and nutritional value of their food. The school’s summer-long farm-to-table series focuses on the seasonality of popular produce and allows students to witness the full life cycle of what they grow as a school, from planting seeds and caring for seedlings, to harvesting and preparing a meal with the fruits of their labor.
“In addition to caring for the garden together, we use it to weave in academics as much as possible,” says Beth. “The garden helps us teach about calories and sugar in our food, and we use the food to create menus and meals together, and to help the kids see what goes into growing and preparing what they eat.”
As a part of this farm-to-table series, students also attend a weekly farmers’ market, where they purchase additional seasonal foods to supplement the program and get exposure to new types of produce. They also sell the school’s flowers at a local market. All sales go to the school’s petty cash fund, which supports student incentives and enrichment activities, such as field trips.
Clifford Academy’s horticulture program aims to teach students the fundamentals of garden cultivation, while focusing on helping youth develop transferable vocational skills that will support them in their daily life beyond school.
Horticulture Vocational Instructor Erin Backus has seen the popularity of this new program quickly bloom. “Our students are always hesitant of change, but as time has gone on, I have received numerous comments from kids about how the plants have brought them happiness.”
Horticulture students at Clifford Academy engage in frequent hands-on gardening activities and supply the school’s culinary classes with fresh produce to incorporate into their lessons. One such creation prepared by the students this past summer was parmesan friend zucchini with a tomato jam, topped with caprese salad, using homegrown basil, tomatoes and zucchini.
Each of The Home’s special education schools operate under the belief that all children can succeed with the correct inclusive supports. Their gardens are an extension of this approach, cultivating practical, accessible education and community-building, and helping students experience new success in their time spent outdoors and in the kitchen.