Franklin Avenue’s garden project reaps educational rewards

WESTFIELD – Five students from the Franklin Avenue Elementary School, along with Principal Fran St. Peter and Adjustment Counselor Kate Fahey presented their garden project to the School Committee Monday night.
Fahey said the idea of planting a vegetable garden at the school came to her after a young student visited her office, and asked about her spearmint plant, saying, “I didn’t know gum grew on trees.” Fahey said she realized that many children didn’t know where food came from, and thought a garden would be a good way to teach them.
Last fall, Westfield Technical Academy adopted Franklin Avenue for its annual elementary school partnership in order to help them create the garden.
Dave Dion, Westfield Tech’s horticultural teacher, Principal Stefan Czaporowski and about six high school students helped the children dig up chives that had taken over the grounds, and clear a path. Then in October, United Way volunteers made two raised beds during the annual Day of Caring.
In the spring, the school refitted the beds that had suffered over the winter with the help of Westfield Tech students. Dion talked to the elementary students about how to grow vegetables and different ways to grow them.
The students planted in April and May, using all organic gardening. The family of Ray Vergera, one of the Franklin Ave. student presenters, donated tomato seeds in honor of his grandmother.
Linda Fahey, student volunteers, and others came throughout the summer to water and weed. St. Peter said the school’s custodians kept an eye on the garden and watered when needed.
Mike Ventrice, a new student this year, told the School Committee he wasn’t there for the planting, but just in time for the harvest.
“The tomatoes were as big as my fists,” St. Peter said.
Fahey gave the tomatoes and herbs to families after school. Students and teachers also got to snack on them, St. Peter said.
They also grew two giant pumpkins, one of which was brought to the meeting Monday night. Another of the student volunteers, Neha Darjee, had won the pumpkin in a drawing at the open house, and was finally able to bring it home after the meeting. The students also gave out small pumpkins they grew to the School Committee and staff at the meeting.
St. Peter said they plan to expand the garden next year, and apply for a grant that one of the parents told her was available to schools for this purpose. She is also thinking about having some family garden beds at the school.
“It was fun,” St. Peter said.

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