With a boost from a $7,000 grant from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, students in prekindergarten through fifth grade at the Mount Prospect Elementary School have gotten an opportunity these last few months to see how their garden grows.
The project, part of a schoolwide initiative to encourage children to eat and live healthily — with the foods they eat, through exercise and other healthy habits — will be highlighted with harvesting of the garden's vegetables this week.
Fifth grade teacher Katie Paul, who will have students out in the garden on Wednesday morning harvesting produce, said that preparing for and growing the garden resulted in multiple lessons for children.
Paul said the children planted the seedlings in their classrooms in February. Then, during April's spring break, she said two students, Michael Mallach, in fifth grade, and his sister, Jenna, in fourth grade, helped her prepare the garden plot near the exit from the school's media center.
"We poured soil and watered the plants," Jenna recalled.
Paul said each grade level, and the prekindergarten and kindergarten students as well, planted one little plant box with at least one vegetable.
The produce to be harvested includes peas (in real pods), kale, beets, lettuce, spinach and _ unexpectedly, tomatoes.
Paul said that an area farm, Uncle Bill's Farm in Bedminster, helped the classes select vegetables that could be harvested by the end of the school year.
Students also learned lessons about the vulnerability of plants when April's chill and winds killed delicate summer squash plants that were being nurtured by the fifth graders, the teacher said.
Paul said that parents brought in tomato plants as substitutes — but since that harvest won't be ready until later during, and through, summer, parents and students have volunteered to help her water and pick tomatoes even after school lets out.
The fresh tomatoes then also will be donated to the same food bank where the school intends to take the produce that is being harvested now, she said.
Paul said the students also learned a lesson about generosity when the majority voted to donated the vegetables to families in need rather than sampling the results of their labor themselves.
Another teacher, Amanda Hughes, who grew up in Basking Ridge, will transport the donated vegetables to a food distribution center at the First Presbyterian Church of Bernardsville, Paul said. The Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church is involved with that food bank, she added.
But students will be able to take home what they've learned about growing plans.
Jenna said her family obtained a greenhouse at their home as a result of the students' involvement with the Mount Prospect Garden. "Dad got inspired," she said.
Along with vegetables, Michael said the Mallach family growing operation also includes strawberry plants — and he's looking forward to eating them.
Paul said the Rutgers Cooperative grant was obtained near the end of the last school year, and has subsidized the healthy education program through this year. She said she wrote the grant application along with teacher Kathie Immerman.
The school's Parent Teacher Organization also donated funds to put up a large fence to protect the growing vegetables from animals, she said.