Local Schools Do Their Part in Planting the Seeds of Change

May 2019

By Karen Pyndus, Director of Communications, WEforum


Spring is in the air, and for many local school students, that means getting their hands in the dirt. Taking a page from the grow-your-own movement, Mastro Montessori Academy of Shrewsbury, the Rumson school district, and the entire Long Branch Public Schools system have each started school gardening programs, enhancing their curricula throughout multiple subject areas, and instilling in students the skills to make sustainability second nature. Participating in the cultivation of a school garden affords students opportunities that reach far beyond environmental education. Students will assumedly gain a sense of individual responsibility, along with a communal and social awareness that promotes a life-long mindset of sustainable practices.

The impact that gardening can have on local, national, and global health issues is not lost on the educators who enthusiastically foster a love of all things green. The hope is that students will carry this new found excitement with them and conceivably pass on to future generations. Clara Logan, Academy Director at Mastro, shares some insight on the purpose and directive of the school’s Garden Initiatives and Green Program. “Mastro Montessori Academy is making a strong effort to expose students to gardening, healthy eating, and the importance of sustainability. We incorporate learning about healthy choices, the environment, gardening, and global impact into multiple subject areas, especially as the children advance through our program levels.

Depending on the age of the child, they may learn about many different topics related to cultivating their own garden, including lessons on horticulture, biology, botany, youth entrepreneurship, and environmental studies. The children can be exposed to any variety of these different topics depending on their interest and their developmental levels. Our goal is to expose as many children as we can to the importance of having a home or school garden and growing your own food. The more we get the children to think about the larger impact of each of their food choices, they more we can encourage them to be global citizens.

As educators we feel very strongly about the importance of what children put in their bodies to nourish their minds. When children are properly educated and empowered to grow their own food and value healthy choices, this transfers into healthy food habits throughout childhood, and hopefully into adulthood. The children can also help to make a positive impact on the environment through healthy and local food purchasing choices.”

The Long Branch school system takes the same approach to educating students about sustainability through individual and group action, such as creating school gardens as part of their district’s mission to “live and breathe green.” As a result, all nine of the Long Branch schools have been awarded the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification, a state program which offers training and grants, along with the certification opportunity, for schools in the garden state who strive to “go green.” The Sustainable School Gardens program in Long Branch spans nine separate gardens throughout the K-12 system. As explained on the Sustainable School Gardens website:

They (the gardens) help students take a hands-on approach to general good nutrition, as well as the gardening cultivation experience. Students harvest throughout the summer and fall with the intent to sample what they grow and donate the organically grown produce to families in need through local food banks.

Showing these students that they can make a difference may be the greatest lesson they learn through the program. This program runs year-round through a mobile indoor aeroponic unit, along with aquaponic tanks and a greenhouse, keeping the green production constant. Inclusive and far-reaching both describe the unique garden program in Long Branch, which not only involves the students in the mainstream setting, but also those in the alternative program, as well as educators, families, local university students, and community members.