A truly green initiative on St. Paddy’s Day in South Berwick

Posted March 21, 2011, at 7:38 a.m.

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — St. Patrick’s Day spirit was sprouting Thursday at Central Elementary School, although students did much more than just wear green for the holiday.

More than 450 students opted for a green thumb over a green shirt as part of a schoolwide planting day, which the school is tying into the curriculum as a way to teach the children about healthy eating, supporting local agriculture, life cycles and gardening.

Each student, most of whom also wore green, got the chance to plant or sprinkle vegetable seeds into recycled paper cups that will be stored in sunny classrooms until the seeds eventually sprout and students can move the plants outside.

And eat them, of course.

That’s one thing Olivia Oberg, a third grader, said she looked forward to as she was sprinkling purple carrot seeds into her soil-filled cup Thursday. Oberg said she loves the taste of purple carrots, something she grows at home and first tried when she ate one out of her grandmother’s garden in Germany.

Oberg’s classmates were also excited to grow and eat the colorful taproot, although some said the idea of a purple carrot seemed “really weird.” Oberg said her classmates shouldn’t be hesitant to try her favorite vegetable — just don’t expect it to taste like a traditional carrot.

“They don’t taste anything like an orange carrot,” said the eight-year-old. “They taste just like cabbage. They taste great.”

The gardening theme has been one with which Central students have been working over the past year. The school received a $4,000 grant from the Marshwood Education Foundation in order to build a Hoop House, a greenhouse-like structure, and do some landscaping and tree-planting near the playground, work which began last summer, according to Principal Vicky Stewart.

On Thursday, students planted a variety of vegetables including peas, corn, turnips, beets, baby spinach, kale and Swiss chard, and each will be transferred to the in-construction Hoop House, which students have dubbed the “Fresh Food Express.”

The vegetables will then become the maiden crop of a new gardening and local, healthy-eating initiative Central’s teachers and administrators hope will take root and continue for years to come.

Stewart said the idea, which originated from nationally-renowned cookbook writer Kathy Gunst, who has been cooking and teaching nutrition classes in the school this year, will also have an effect on the community as students try new, local foods could then change the eating habits of their families.

“We’re hoping to change minds,” she said. “They’ll go home with these things, and it can change families — not just kids. They’ll like what they grow and will then like eating healthy.”

Thursday also featured a visit and talk from master gardener and Strawberry Banke’s Curator of Historical Landscape John Forti, who asked the students if they have ever grown something before.

Nearly every student in the gymnasium raised their hands, which Stewart said shows the school is off to the right start.

Carlie Haven, a seven-year-old second grader, said she loves growing vegetables and is excited to grown corn with her class. Haven also said she liked the idea of the Hoop House and hoped it can do a lot of good for the school and the town.

“It’ll help us be healthy,” she said. “Usually we just have hamburgers.”

Stewart said the Hoop House will likely be complete in two or three weeks, and the plan is to have students eating their crops before the end of the school year.

She said she also hopes community members will step up and help maintain the garden while students are off during the summer; that way students can keep the living project growing from the very beginning of the next school year.

“We’re trying to make it a community space, and hopefully the community will help take care of it,” said Stewart. “It’s the most amazing project.”

Copyright (c) 2011, Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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