By Kathryn G. Menu
Edible gardens that support science, agriculture and nutrition programs are fairly commonplace in school districts across the East End, and throughout the country as the Slow Food movement continues to grow in popularity. But even before Michelle Obama planted her vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House in 2009, teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz had students elbows deep in mulch in 2008, working in the Bridgehampton School’s Edible Schoolyard, a program that grew from a small plot to one complete with a greenhouse and hydroponics.
Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz learned last week that she has been honored with a 2016 Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture award, recognition made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization. Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz was also awarded the 2016 New York Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year award in December.
She will travel to Phoenix, Arizona in late June to receive both awards at a conference where she will discuss her role in the Edible School Gardens movement on the East End, which she helped found, as well as her role in the New York State Chapter of Slow Food USA.
“When reading through your portfolio of accomplishments, it was clear you are a true friend of New York agriculture and dedicated to integrating agriculture into your classroom,” Katie Bigness, coordinator of New York Agriculture in the Classroom, wrote in a letter to Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz congratulating her on the state award. “The ways in which you weave agricultural concepts into opportunities for teaching and learning inspires students, teachers, and families. We are pleased to recognize your innovative teaching of agriculture throughout your curriculum with this honor.”
Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz hopes the recognition helps broaden her resources as she works toward expanding the Edible School Gardens into school cafeterias, and to integrate more technology into the program. In addition to teaching botany and nutrition at the Bridgehampton School, and leading the school’s garden and greenhouse programs, she also serves as the faculty advisor to the school’s robotics team.
“I would really love to see a change in the food we serve in the cafeteria,” she said in an interview this week. “That is a real challenge. You have to work with parents, children, children wanting to eat what they are used to, budgetary concerns — you are trying to feed a child on $2 and change — but I feel school districts do have to make this a bigger priority, and not just look at food as a straight budgetary item accepting from the lowest bidding vendor, but from a wellness point of view.”
Edible School Gardens is partnering with the Wellness Foundation and Southampton Hospital’s Ed & Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute in hosting the first East End School Wellness Conference on March 11 at LTV Studios in Wainscott. The conference aims to help East End school districts strengthen wellness practices.
Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said students also need to learn how agriculture is going to have to evolve to contend with a growing world population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations.
“My new interest is agriculture and technology, and how we can grow food in more dynamic ways, using technology to solve problems we find in the garden,” she said.
Marrying her passion for the school garden and the robotics team, Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz has a new project planned for this summer – building a robot to work the school garden.