By Tessa Raebeck
Despite the snow piles, the potholes, and the threat of more 30-degree weather on the horizon, spring is on its way—at least at the Bridgehampton School.
A group of parents, teachers, and students came to school on Saturday, March 7, to clean up the school’s greenhouse before spring and prepare for the coming season.
For the past five years, the Bridgehampton School has been planting a garden on its grounds, primarily tended by the students and led by teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who is also the chair of Slow Food East End, with help from a few other teachers. It evolved into a community garden about two years ago, and production is increasing this year, as a committed group of Bridgehampton parents has joined in, coming each Monday to work in the greenhouse.
Philippe Cheng, a parent at the school, redesigned the greenhouse layout this year to make more room—and grow more lettuce. The goal is to increase production and bring more fresh produce into the school’s cafeteria, while educating the students and community about the importance of slow food.
As part of its commitment to community-minded farming, healthy, mindful eating and sustainable, farm-to-table production practices, Slow Food East End funds master farmers for local school gardens. Zachary Johnson, a farmer at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, has been supervising and lending a hand in Bridgehampton.
Working together with Mr. Johnson and the school’s cafeteria staff, this season the gardeners will be producing different varieties of lettuce and snap peas, and in the long run onions, potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and plenty of beets and carrots.
“We really hope to supply all of the lettuce that the cafeteria uses for the week, and to at least provide a vegetable throughout the year, that would be our goal,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz.
Coursework aligns with the garden’s mission. There is a botany and agricultural production elective for Bridgehampton students to learn about growing food and the nutrition and culinary arts elective teaches them how to prepare and eat it.
“It’s very much about those principles of eating good, clean and fair food,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches the nutrition and culinary arts elective. Using the garden, students can learn about the creativity behind cooking.
While the students have been involved since the beginning through in-school electives and after-school clubs, two years ago Bridgehampton started the community garden with the goal of involving more people outside the school. The greenhouse now has 13 raised beds, 8-by 4-feet each, that members of the community can take over and use to grow whatever they please in exchange for helping out in the garden.
“That brought more people in, but it’s really the fact that the parents have come in [this year] and so now we have parents, faculty, and students, so we have the whole package—and an extremely supportive administration,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz. “Everything is in place and—it’s just very exciting.”
As the school community has become more involved, so has the greater Bridgehampton community surrounding it. Local farmer Jenn Halsey Dupree will be coming to the school to help the gardeners plant some apple trees. There is already a small strawberry patch and blueberry bushes, and new raspberry bushes will soon be planted.
“Children are all excited about the fruit, they just love it,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said.
On Saturday, the group made plans for future expansion and even greater involvement. Mr. Cheng came up with the concept of modeling the project off of a “field of dreams,” where you build it and they will come.
“I just loved that concept, because we’ve been working on that, but if we reach out and really get more and more people involved and have them have ownership in the garden, that could only make the project grow,” she said, adding the concept could potentially be brought to all the local school gardens.
The Bridgehampton garden team will be building two raised beds in the greenhouse using a grant received from Slow Food East End, and the ultimate goal is to raise enough funds for six more.
“Our idea is, well, let’s build them, we’ll build the two and people will see what it’s like and get excited and be part of the growth going forward, so that we can carry on building them and get community support for them,” she said.
Encouraging anyone who’s interested to stop by and become involved in any way they can, the gardeners at Bridgehampton School hope to continually raise community involvement not just to expand the raised beds in the greenhouse, but also the mission behind them; to raise awareness about what real food is, where it comes from, what to eat and how to eat it.