Garden Train Takes Root: The First Annual Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl

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PARK SLOPE – On Saturday, schools across Brooklyn’s District 15 opened up their gardens to the public for a celebration of experiential learning, food justice and creativity for the first annual Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl.

Kickoff event for the first annual Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl at The Old Stone House (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

CEC 15 board member, Kathy Price, founded the organization Garden Train, hatching the idea for the crawl last July. The group partnered with Grow to Learn NYC, an organization with the mission to put a garden in every school.

“Our school gardens can be a living thriving link to our communities,” Price told BKLYNER.

Garden Train Founder Kathy Price speaks at the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl kickoff event at The Old Stone House (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

“They’re inherently hopeful and they’re places where we show kindness and hope for the earth,” she added.

At the kickoff, Bronx food justice activist Karen Washington delivered the keynote address.

“They’re being marketed with processed food and junk food. This is where school gardens come into play, where we put the power in the hands of our kids that can get down and dirty, that can get into the earth, that could plant the seed and know from that seed something spectacular is gonna come about it. And that that seed is bringing something that is nurturing, nurturing and encouraging, something that we have lost,” Washington said.

Karen Washington was the Keynote Speaker at the first annual Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

CEC 15 member Mark Bisard, spoke of the profound influence that access to a school garden had on his son. In a time when his son suffered from fierce anxiety and depression over attending school at all, the garden gave him a safe place to transition into the school environment, incorporating his garden time into the school curriculum.

Neva Orlav, Landon Clark, and Ramses Clark at PS 32 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

Kids received colorful “passports” to decorate and earned a stamp for each garden they visited. The diverse array of gardens stretched from Red Hook to Kensington to Cobble Hill.

Ramses Clark at PS 32 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

Each stop gave a distinct style of educational urban agriculture. At PS 39 (417 6th Avenue) in Park Slope, Jason Agee and his son Daniel infused olive oil and vinegar with homegrown basil and hot peppers.

Jason Agee and his son Daniel at PS 39 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

Agee displayed freshly harvested potatoes and chard. “Kids love to pull anything out of the ground,” he said.

Daniel Agee at PS 39 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

At the L-shaped garden at PS 372 (512 Carroll Street) in Gowanus, Liza Gouger served lemonade and spoke about the sensory garden, a collection of plants with interesting smells and textures such as mint, basil, sage and lemon verbena. The sensory garden was created as an additional resource to help engage students with Autism Spectrum disorders or other sensory challenges.

Liza Gouger at PS 372 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

Fred Wolf, fondly known as “Farmer Fred” at PS 32’s rooftop garden, let visitors pick and sample tomatoes. Students at PS 32 (317 Hoyt Street) visit the roof twice a month for Wolf’s garden curriculum.

“All the plants here are permaculture. It’s a different way of growing—using plants that are low to no maintenance,” Wolf said.

Fred “Farmer Fred” Wolf at PS 32 during the Brooklyn School Gardens Crawl (Photo: Maria Robins-Somerville)

From goji berries to figs and tricolor corn, Wolf has curated a garden of crops that withstand wind and colder temperatures. On Saturday, it also proved steadfast against young visitors chasing each other through the plants, hiding behind larger bushes, and emerging to show Farmer Fred a salvaged bean pod or other organic delight.

The sun held out all day, and the crawl culminated in a celebration back at The Old Stone House, complete with refreshments, yoga and live music.

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