Growing a Community at Harris Elementary

Harris ElementaryWhen teachers at Harris Elementary in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, surveyed students about their knowledge of plants and farming, only three percent said they had ever seen a vegetable garden. Fifth grade teacher Eileen LaRiviere was not surprised. The majority of Harris Elementary students live in the city, with limited access to green space. “They’d seen pictures, but had never seen a working garden in person,” she said.

Harris Elementary is using a Sharing the Dream grant to take students to local farms, and to plant a community garden on school grounds where they can grow and harvest their own fresh produce.

This past fall, children researched the types of vegetables that could be grown in their New England climate and what plants would attract butterflies and ladybugs. They grew seedlings indoors, cleared garden space outside, and planted winter rye, a crop that grows in colder seasons and can be plowed back into the ground in the spring to provide nutrients to the soil.

Students also were exposed to vegetables and herbs used in international cuisines and encouraged to try foods unfamiliar to them. “The kids have cooked soups, stir-fries, and Spanish dishes,” said Esther Zuraw-Burns, a 4th grade teacher.

For the 97 percent of students who have never seen a working garden, a field trip to Pezza Farm, which supplies Harris Elementary’s cafeteria with fresh, organic vegetables, is scheduled for this spring. “Students will understand where their food comes from,” said LaRiviere.

Trips to Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, an herb farm, and an apiary—where beehives are kept—are planned for the coming weeks.

To get parents involved in the garden project, the school is offering families their own small plots to cultivate. The rich diversity of Harris’s students will be reflected in the herbs and vegetables planted this spring for use in favorite cultural dishes.

Plans are also in the works to donate part of the communal harvest to a local food pantry. “The pantry is so excited to get fresh produce. So much of what is donated is processed,” said Zuraw-Burns.

Garden organizers hope that by giving back to the community, children at Harris Elementary—and their families—will become more aware of the needs of others in their neighborhood and around the world.

Gardening/Outdoor Learning Resources:

Worm Ladies

World Crops

National Gardening Association

Agriculture in the Classroom

Pollinator Partnership

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Sharing the Dream

Grants for pre-K-8 school projects that create global classrooms where children—and families—can safely connect, exchange ideas and learn together.

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