How does Mettawee Community School’s garden grow?


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Jun 04, 2023

How does Mettawee Community School’s garden grow?

WEST PAWLET — The toughest job was digging 14 post holes for the fence that would enclose the new Mettawee School Community Garden. That’s when sixth grader Emma Graf discovered that accidents can

WEST PAWLET — The toughest job was digging 14 post holes for the fence that would enclose the new Mettawee School Community Garden. That’s when sixth grader Emma Graf discovered that accidents can become blessings: “I spilled some water where I was digging and then I realized the work got much easier.”

That’s just one example of the critical thinking and problem solving skills to be developed as part of the project to build a community garden at the Mettawee Community School.

“The garden is a wonderful addition to our school and another example of our ongoing partnership with Merck Forest and Farmland,” says Mettawee Principal Brooke DeBonis. “The graduating sixth graders have done the hard work and learned a lot. Now it’s up to our staff, families, and returning students - especially the new six graders - to stay engaged with the garden and maintain it well into the future.”

Initial steps on the garden were taken last fall when four sixth graders - Emma, along with Sophia LeVitre, Eleanor Zimmerman, and Margaret Donaldson - received a grant from Merck Forest & Farmland. The four developed a plan and powerpoint presentation that convinced Merck to write a check for $960 to pay for seeds, tools, and the fabled fence.

One important benefit of their proposed garden was that it would be open to local residents. Families could help maintain the plants over the summer and then harvest the produce when ready. The Community Garden would become a mainstay for the benefits of being outdoors and healthy eating.

In May, the project moved from the classroom to the outdoors. The late starting Vermont spring held off the back-breaking work on the garden until the last few weeks of school. A 4,000 square foot patch of land was marked off not too far from the staff parking lot on the north side of the school property.

“Turning over the ground for the first year of the garden was hard work,” Emma explains. “But that will only make it easier for future sixth graders to continue the garden in the years ahead. That’s our parting gift to the school.”

Once the soil was ready, the planting began. Working from a pre-planned map of what and where vegetables would grow, the kids placed dry seeds in the dirt, plus a few seedlings that had been growing roots inside under fluorescent lamps. “There was a lot to learn in the planning and actual planting of the garden,” says sixth grade teacher Heather McGann. “The whole class got involved. Working outside together as a team made education fun.”

When school ended for the summer break, the plot looked like a large rectangular patch of dirt, surrounded by a fence. But the garden was ready to grow.

The garden survived the drenching storms of June and July. With the wet weather there was no need to manually water the growing plants and the roots grew deeper. As the weeks passed, the garden at first showed signs of life and then began to produce.

By early August there was a long row of red, purple and yellow potatoes that will soon be ready to harvest with pitchforks. Other offerings include: A patch of onions. One square plot of broccoli and another with cabbage and cauliflower. Yellow and orange nasturtiums.

Varieties of climbing beans scale up the chicken wire fence attached to those 14 posts. One corner is occupied by ‘glass gem corn’ that can be used to make tasty popcorn or dried for a fall decoration. A row of tomatoes is paired with patches of basil and dill. Kale, banana peppers and zucchinis are holding their own in the shadows. Cucumber and pumpkin vines are spreading.

“Some of the kids took some extra pumpkin seeds and planted them outside the garden fence,” says Emma. “We didn’t want to waste anything, and we hope they will help feed the animals, and maybe keep them away from our garden.”

Emma and her parents, Sarah DeLong Graf and John Graf, who both teach at Burr & Burton, have been tending the garden as a family project over the summer. “We have three of our own gardens at home, but this one is special,” says Emma’s mom. “As a teacher I see the multiple benefits of the kids working on this project together, plus it serves as a potential gift for the community.”

The garden is open to all residents in the surrounding towns. Tools such as shovels, stirrup hoes, hand trowels, and clippers can be found on site.

“Just come out with your family, pull some weeds, and toss them over the fence,” says Sarah DeLong Graf. “Then feel free to take home something healthy for your table. Trust me, you’ll feel glad that you did.”