Garden of Honor: Mastro Montessori’s Curious Gardener Summer Camp Welcomes Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County
The parent community of Mastro Montessori Academy, a private 501c3 school, came together in 2017 to fundraise for and build a seventeen-bed school garden in honor of a parent who passed away suddenly. The children of the parent who passed away named this green oasis The Garden of Honor to recognize their father and to pay tribute to his love of gardening and inspiration to connect with nature. After one successful growing season, WEforum collaborated with Mastro to develop a camp program called The Curious Gardener Summer Camp to help sustain the growth and maintenance of the garden during the summer months.
During the camp program, children learn about sprouting seeds, composting, seasonal gardening, insect cycles, plant families, root study, garden bugs (both good and not so good), plant parts (edible vs. non-edible), nutrition, fertilizers (natural vs. unnatural), plant families, agriculture, farm to table, green markets, running a small business, and much more.
The camp curriculum opened its doors to invite notable Monmouth County educators, like Tom Matulewicz to lead a class for the children. Students were able to plant in the garden and harvest produce. With the guidance of Matulewicz, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County and Master Gardener, they learned about the importance of composting and how to use the Earth Machine Compost Unit.
WEforum Creative Director and Mastro Montessori parent Alumna, Tracy Turi, a culinary educator, delivered her message through the magic of food science and taught the children how to upcycle scraps to fabricate entire meals at home. Children love to play with their food, and this tactile enjoyment not only acquainted them with real, whole ingredients, it also made them more confident in the kitchen. Children who understand food, nutrition and sustainability are more likely to eat well and let go of their fear of trying new foods.
The Wise Up: Teen Advocacy Group, a WEforum inspired teen group comprised of young women attending Red Bank Regional, Red Bank Catholic, Trinity Hall and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, was invited to lead a lecture on environmental sustainability. The teens have spoken to thousands of middle school students at numerous events, including a Monmouth University women’s basketball game. They were also the opening act for Ron Finley, the famous Gangsta Gardener from South Central Los Angeles, at a Long Branch middle school assembly the day before last fall’s WEforum Health and Wellness Conference. Wise Up teens raise awareness and teach their peers and younger children how to make better, healthier choices, and during the Curious Gardener Summer Camp, the young ladies discussed the importance of respecting the environment and eliminating single use plastics. Their recycle, reuse, reduce and refuse message was met with enthusiasm. Each student received a Hydrate for Life, aluminum, reusable water bottle generously donated by WEforum.
The Curious Gardener Summer Camp is generously supported by Monmouth Medical Center and President Eric Carney, and through this support was able to welcome children from The Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County, a non-profit organization that serves children who come from some of the most difficult circumstances in the county. The Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County helps to provide a safe environment to learn and grow; foster ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals; provide life-enhancing programs and character development experiences; and most importantly, offer hope and opportunity.
Students from Long Branch Public Schools also attended Mastro’s summer camp. Diego DeAssis, Sustainability and Environmental Officer of Long Branch Public Schools, has built one of the strongest green programs in the state of New Jersey. As state and national leaders in sustainability, Long Branch Public Schools are taking big strides towards a greener future while ensuring their students are at the center of every effort. With the help of numerous community partners like Monmouth Medical Center, WEforum, Sustainable Jersey for Schools, and many others, the Green Team is able to spearhead a number of other green projects including the expansion of their school gardens, energy saving programs and nutrition education.
Mastro’s Monarch Way Station, Tower Gardens and Observation Bee Hive. Mastro will continue to expand the green initiatives in their Garden of Honor by setting up a Monarch Waystation to help butterflies continue their migration and produce future generations. Mastro was able to purchase Tower Gardens, an indoor aeroponic growing system that allows them to grow indoor produce year-round, using a vertical, soil-less tower. Mastro is most excited about their plans for an Observation Bee Hive that will allow students to study the life cycle of bees and other pollinators, and learn the important role of bees in our environment.
Future Plans for The Curious Gardener Camp. The Curious Gardener Summer Camp is already working on a four-week continuous program for the summer of 2020. With the collaboration of community leaders and other organizations with aligned missions, Mastro and WEforum will continue to work together with Monmouth Medical Center to expose children to the importance of starting a home or school garden and harvesting the bounty. This is an exciting opportunity for students to become global citizens and have a positive impact on the environment.