Putney Central School revitalizes its school garden, orchard

PUTNEY — Putney Central School celebrated May Day with a garden renaissance work party. School staff, students, and their families turned out on a chilly, sunny morning to prepare the garden for the upcoming season.

The group revitalized the six 4 ft. × 12 ft. raised beds, which needed fresh wooden frames and soil amendments after nearly a decade of use by classrooms.

They planted seven new fruit trees (plum, cherry, apple, and pear) in the school's large orchard. Another 10 apple trees were planted by fourth graders the following week.

And they celebrated the roughly 11,000-square-foot (0.25-acre) freshly tilled area, which will become a crop-bearing garden of vegetables to process, freeze, and serve in the school meal program.

Principal Herve Pelletier said he was pleasantly surprised by the strong turnout of school families, eager to gather together in person outside after a long winter to celebrate spring.

He said that this work party was an opportunity to breathe new life into the school's decade-plus old Farm to School program.

“We first started our involvement with Farm to School about ten years ago,” Pelletier said in a news release, “and so to see the energy around this event and the commitment to the work that needs to be done is just great.”

Sustainability Coordinator and Food Service Director Steve Hed said he is delighted to move forward with the more extensive garden. As a champion of local food and hands-on farm, food, and nutrition education for all students, he said he dreams of producing more food on campus and increasing student involvement in the garden.

A combination of grant funding and local funds made it possible to build a much larger walk-in refrigerator and freezer - equipment necessary for the success of a production garden on campus.

Students will help grow, harvest, and prepare fresh produce from the garden, with support from Hed and classroom teachers who will integrate these experiences into the curriculum. Hed and his team will serve these hyperlocal foods at school meals.

Hed is passionate about teaching students the importance of nutrition and health and believes that school food service should be a significant part of the curriculum.

“Teaching kids, particularly at a young age, how to eat right now, just like learning ABCs, can impact them positively or negatively throughout their whole life,” he said.

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