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Seed to Harvest – Planting the seeds of education at Ben-Hem

posted Feb 1, 2014, 10:11 AM by Kristina Fernandes   [ updated Feb 1, 2014, 10:16 AM ]

Feature article published in the October 2013 Newsletter.

Written by Erin Martinovich, Ben-Hem Parent

In 2012, what was then a dandelion-filled field, behind the kindergarten and fourth grade classrooms, underwent an amazing transformation.  Thanks to the imagination and dedication of two Ben-Hem moms, this area has become a vibrant living and learning space, known to the Ben-Hem community as the Seed to Harvest school garden project.

It all began in early 2012 when Kathy Cappellano, a registered dietician and member of the Natick Public School’s School Health Advisory Committee, and Maureen McMahon, who has an extensive background in food preparation and management, had a vision to create a community garden.  They had high hopes for the project, knowing it would be an undertaking that would consist of a lot of hard work and effort. 

 “We were inspired to launch this project for many reasons.  It was a combination of wanting kids to appreciate how food is grown and offer them the opportunity to enjoy fresh, unprocessed foods,” said Kathy Cappellano. “We feel it's critical to expose kids to a variety of foods including fresh fruit and vegetables early on (during the preschool and elementary school years) when families form the basis for lifelong eating habits. Give them other options than chicken fingers, pasta, burgers and dogs.”

“I was excited to get involved with this project as I remember what a positive impact having a garden was on my childhood,” shared Maureen McMahon. “Nature is a great teacher and children have a limited time in their daily schedule to experience it. My hope is that the school garden gives teachers new options when trying to engage their students.  The garden is a great vehicle to teaching about food, seasons, cultures, math, science, art, and so much more.”

Initially funded by a grant from the Natick Education Foundation, the Seed to Harvest school garden project was born.  The mission of the garden project is simple – to teach children to become healthy adults by making healthy food choices, instill the basics of growing food and contribute to a thriving community.  Boasting 10 raised planter beds, you can find fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers all year long.  “I feel the garden project has given the students new awareness of where their food comes from and the effort needed to create it,” shared Maureen.  “I also hope it gives the students new interest and pride in their school surroundings.”

The garden was constructed by Ben-Hem parent volunteers who built and planted the garden beds that were then filled with loam, a soil composed of sand, silt and clay in relatively even proportions. It’s considered ideal for gardening and was generously donated by WindyLo Nurseries. This initial planting yielded a donation of crops to the Natick Food Pantry.

In September of 2012, the gardeners harvested over 7 pounds of produce and herbs which were donated to Bill’s and used as ingredients in the pizzas and salads served at a Ben-Hem fundraiser, this fall. Throughout autum, the Seed to Harvest program created awareness for their crops at sponsored farmer’s markets at school dismissal.

Student and parent volunteers are a crucial ingredient in the success of this program. “One of the my favorite memories was watching the third and fourth graders sift through compost that we put on tarps last spring to show them how their food scraps collected during lunch, were broken down with the help of worms,” Kathy said.“Kids had plastic gloves. Some loved playing with the worms. Others, not so much!”

Volunteers can only go so far without the support of wonderful sponsors. The generosity of businesses and services within the town helped lay the foundation for a successful annual program.

 “We are so grateful for the generous support of local businesses such as Metrowest Irrigation, who donated and installed an irrigation system, and the facilities folks in the town who provided the plumbing and electrical work to make the installation possible. Our custodians have helped with materials and supplies and staff from the Department of Public Works delivered wood chips. Fran's Flower's, Tilly's, Windy Lo Nurseries, White Flower Farm, Mass Horticulture Society and E. Bailey Garden Design have all contributed their expertise for planting and garden materials,” remarked Kathy.

 “I think the biggest reward for me was seeing how excited the kids were in the garden space.  I loved hearing their questions and seeing their enthusiasm.  An unexpected reward was meeting some wonderful, dedicated people in our community,” said Maureen. “I am grateful for all the connections I have made!”

In the Spring of 2013, the Seed to Harvest program entered its second year and was able to provide significant enhancements such as signage, storage and perennial rock gardens, through the successful application of a second NEF grant.  Additionally, Kathy and Maureen sought to secure even greater opportunities for student volunteerism by partnering with ASAP.  The outcome of that partnership became the launch of a six-week session titled ASAP Grows.

Ben-Hem is extremely grateful for the incredible hard work and efforts of Kathy Capellano and Maureen McMahon for launching this new program.  The Bennett-Hemenway PTO will be continuing their fine efforts with the help of parent volunteers including Kate Clancy and Joanne Barros who have already come forward to help.  Kate is best known within Seed to Harvest as the artist who painted the beautiful panels on vibrant display in the space.

For more information about the program, please visit http://seedtoharvest.benhempto.org. To volunteer, please contact go to http://volunteer.benhempto.org or email seedtoharvest@benhempto.org.

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