Inch by Inch, Row By Row (Life in the PFS Garden)

Tracy Patton
Longtime PFS faculty member Tracy Patton has recently taken on coordinating the stewardship of our garden program.  We checked in with her to discover how things are going (and growing)!

Welcome to the Garden

“May I come in?” asked an eager first grader, waiting at the garden gate to shake my hand, “Can I pick a tomato?” he continued excitedly. Soon the garden was filled with students tasting the fall bounty of golden cherry tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, watermelon and carrots. Note to self: plant more carrots next year.

Two days a week the school garden is open to all of our students at lunch recess to come and harvest, taste, explore and work.

Students have quickly learned that at each lunch period, I have freshly chopped veggies on the garden tables for them to taste. Sometimes it’s their familiar favorites like cucumbers or Dragon Tongue beans, other times is something new and different like Kohl Rabi. With compost buckets at hand, our students know they can discard what they don’t like, which seems to make them a little more comfortable trying something new (by the way, the Kohl Rabi was a big hit!)

In addition to the lunch time opportunities, the 3rd and 4th grade students join me for weekly gardening classes throughout the school year. A few of these students also choose to spend some of their recess time in the garden too. Having the opportunity to help guide the younger visitors and to share their knowledge of the garden gives them the feeling of ownership. In their weekly classes, gardening students also enjoy the pleasures of eating straight from the garden. Earlier this fall, the third-grade gardeners were excited to pick the first Sugar Baby melon of the season after several weeks of checking carefully for signs that they were ready. There was a loud cheer from the class when they got their first glimpse of the red juicy middle as it was cut open, it was perfect! Students in both classes, as well as at visitors at lunch, were able to enjoy the remaining melons from the garden. Besides eating them, the simple pleasure of spitting the seeds too made the whole experience even more memorable. But, when there was only one melon left in our garden, the third-grade class carefully collected each seed as they ate so we could save them for planting in the next year’s garden.

Besides sampling straight from the garden, we also cook in our open barn “kitchen” during our gardening classes. Using simple, fresh ingredients in cooking can empower students to make healthy food choices. I have found that kids are often more willing to try something new when they have a hand in putting the ingredients together.

Fall is the time to begin putting the garden to bed for the winter, many of the plants are drying up or dying out but some are also dropping seeds so we have spent time collecting them for next year, as we did for the melon.

Fall is also the time to plant our garlic which needs to overwinter and grow into summer before it can be harvested. Therefore, this fall the 3rd grade gardeners planted their garlic for next summer’s harvest and the 4th grade students were given their garlic to take home that they had planted last year.

Throughout the year, our garden work is purposeful work, with results that are satisfying. Every time we pick up a trowel, a shovel or a wheelbarrow we have a task to accomplish and a goal in mind. Also, in organic gardening there is something satisfying about getting your hands dirty. Yes, we have gloves, and sometimes we use them, but there are no chemicals here and the soil is our friend, it’s the food for our food, so we dig right in.

The PFS garden belongs to the entire school community to enjoy, so if you haven’t stopped in yet, ask a student to point you in the right direction, just remember to latch the gate on your way out, please. We want to keep the hungry deer on the outside of the fence!

To schedule a tour of our garden and learn more about Princeton Friends School, contact Admissions@princetonfriendsschool.org.
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A progressive, Quaker day school welcoming students in Pre-K through 8th grade to our historic Princeton campus nestled in the woods.