It’s been a few weeks since we visited Edmeston Central School to see their high tunnel project in action, and I’m still feeling so inspired by the work there. The project is starting it’s second year, led by Brian Belknap, the Director of Food Service. His mission: to “reawaken kids’ taste buds”. There are about 500 students at Edmeston Central School, K-12 all housed in the same building. Brian works with teachers from different grade levels and subject areas to integrate food and garden experiences into the curriculum as well as the cafeteria. The high tunnel is situated behind the school and is currently the only garden space at the school (it replaced a small non-food garden). It has 10 raised annual beds and 4 other beds that currently grow raspberries and strawberries. Brian is working to develop a planting schedule and plan that utilizes the high tunnel to the full extent, growing crops that can be harvested while school is still in session in June, delaying the planting of some other crops so that they are ready for harvest when school is back in session in September, and overwintering greens.
Second graders connect their work in the high tunnel directly to literacy. Last year they planted sunflowers, tracked their growth with observational drawings, and researched sunflowers through non-fiction texts. This year first graders will plant basil, tomatillos, and garlic. They too will make observations about growth, measure, care for their plants and plan to make pesto, green salsa, and pizza. The teachers have another goal: to expose students to new foods and connect to cultures through food.
The middle and high school Spanish teacher is working with her students to plant a variety of peppers and tomatoes which will be used to discover foods of Spanish-speaking countries and explore Columbian exchange.
The high school science teacher’s students helped build the tunnel last year. This year they plan to monitor soil moisture and conduct experiments related to this.
Brian connects classroom and cafeteria via the cooking cart he wheels into classrooms for cooking demonstrations, taste tests, and related lessons. During one demo there was a fire drill. The pasta sauce was left simmering and when they all came back the amazing smell of fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic was a reawakening of the senses. Brian thinks he might invite every class to leave for a few moments and return to fully appreciate the aromas of fresh food from the garden.
Pest control is a concern with any garden. At Edmeston, the high tunnel alleviates deer problems they have had in the past. They sunk chicken wire into the ground to avoid woodchucks and other animals that may sneak in under the plastic. Insects have so far been controlled with additional row coverings. At this point mice are their primary pest concern. Seems the mice love to scurry through the black plastic around the berries and have compromised the strawberry plants. Now that it is spring though, the mice seemed to have moved out.
Stay tuned for more updates and information from Edmeston Central School and our 5 other high tunnel sites.