Today was quite an exciting, eventful, and fulfilling day! It was a total culmination after many months spent planning, planting, growing, tending, watering, harvesting, and now enjoying the fruits of our labor. This was truly a community effort, and the saying "many hands makes light work" is probably an understatement in this particular instance.
It all started last year, before I was even an employee in the district. Teachers, staff, and students were beginning to prepare the beds and plant seeds in the Crocker Farm, Wildwood, and Fort River Elementary School gardens. Over the summer while students were on summer vacation, dedicated students and staff took turns watering, weeding, and maintaining the gardens. When students returned in the fall, the seeds had developed into full blown vegetables!
When the school year began, we had already begun thinking about ways to utilize the bounty in our cafeterias. Before doing that, we checked with our local board of health inspector and she recommended an annual soil test at each of our garden sites. We worked with the UMass Soil Lab to get our soil tested, developed our own list of garden safety protocols, and began planning a celebration event and picking out a recipe. We picked October 26 and our recipe was a "Local Garden Soup" paired with a yummy grilled cheese sandwich.
Jennifer Reese, Science Specialist and Garden Coordinator for Amherst Public Schools, and garden educator Leila Tunnell organized a big harvest day with students at each school during the last week of September. In all, over 115 pounds of butternut and delicata squash, carrots, beets, scallions, beans, and sugar pumpkins were harvested for delivery to the cafeterias.
I couldn't be more happy with how today went. There were literally hundreds community members - students, parents, teachers, kitchen staff, and administrators - who were all involved in different aspects of this day. For me personally, I thought about all the time, energy, and love that went into growing, preparing, and cooking today's meal. The ARPS kitchen staff did a truly remarkable job making the tastiest "local garden vegetable soup" that I've ever had. This is the first of hopefully many collaborations between our Schools Gardens Program and our new in-house ARPS Food Service program. Great job today, everyone!