The school has launched Growing Connection, a United Nations-sponsored gardening program that teaches kids how to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers on the roof of their school. The program connects students from all over the world, who share recipes and gardening tips.
Led by 3rd grade teacher Alexa Pinsker, each classroom was given an Earthbox planter to maintain throughout the spring. Students were responsible for planting the seeds, watering them, weeding the planters, and ultimately harvesting their crop of spinach, basil, cilantro, and chili peppers.
Pinsker instructed the students on how to prepare the greens and supplied them with recipes that utilized their school-grown bounty. In just a few weeks, students will be selling the veggies at the Graham Avenue Greenmarket, with the money raised going back to the school.
“I think the most magical part for the students was putting the seeds into the soil,” said Pinsker. “They were so excited to come and see if the seedlings had sprouted.”
The students were also excited to prepare their crops into delicious treats, such as the transformation of freshly grown basil into pesto.
“I liked the part where we tasted the basil,” said Sadie Rios, one of the now fourth grade students who participated in the program.
The Growing Connection was created by the U.N. as way to introduce West African children to easy to use gardening methods and using informational resources and the Internet as a tool for strengthening growing practices.
“The idea is simple: we want to get them growing and to get the to show peers around the world how to do it,” said Robert Patterson, director of Growing Connection for the U.N.
The program began in Ghana in 2003, a country that is suffering from poverty and malnutrition, and since the Growing Connection program began, Patterson has seen a change in attitude towards gardening and farming.
“Since the program began, we’ve seen a mental shift in students,” he said. “Tending gardens used to be viewed as a punishment or something done by people in the lowest economic positions, but now the cool kids want to be involved. We’ve got a lot of schools that wanted to expand their gardening programs, and now we’re seeing poultry and pig farms.”
Patterson explained that Brooklyn and other neighborhoods in the United States face the same problems seen in Ghana.
“In an urban setting, as it is in West Africa, we’re seeing a lot of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and escalating food prices, and the solution is the same here as it is over there,” he explained.
Patterson also discussed the informational part of the program, which unifies students from all different continents through the exchange of recipes and gardening tips over the Internet.
“Kids that exchange recipes are not going to bomb each other,” he said.
The program has participants in Ghana, Nicaragua, India, and other U.S. cities, including 60 in New York State.
“I think that kids teaching kids can be phenomenal,” said Councilwoman Diana Reyna. “Hopefully this will become a district-wide effort.
P.S. 257’s Growing Connection program was sponsored by the Graham Avenue Business Improvement District, which provided funding for the program and will assist the students as they sell their veggies at the Graham Avenue Greenmarket, as well as help them get future crops into other Williamsburg greenmarkets.
“This community is in need of good healthy food, and this not only creates new produce but does it in a sustainable way,” said Betty Cooney, executive director of the Graham Avenue BID.
The first year of the program was considered a great success, and it will not only continue but expand in the new school year.
“When we started, we didn’t think we’d have anybody working at the garden over the summer,” said Pinsker. “But know that we have the interest, we want to do less peppers and herbs and more summer vegetables like tomatoes and sunflowers.”