School garden yields healthy harvest

KEENE VALLEY - In its ongoing effort to grow healthy minds and bodies, one local school is growing its own food.

Keene Central School has been growing its own organic vegetables, fruits, and spices in a school garden for use in school meals, due largely in part to the efforts of superintendent Cynthia Johnston and cafeteria manager Julie Holbrook.

"Part of the idea has been to save money," said Holbrook, "but the food just tastes better, it's more nutritious, and the kids really get a lot out of it."

For the past three years, the garden has produced tomatoes, squash, salad greens, garlic, onions, kale, pears, beans, asparagus and many other healthy foods to use in place of produce the school would otherwise have shipped to them.

"When we started, it was more like cost shifting than cost saving," said Johnston, noting how cooking fresh produce from the garden is more labor-intensive, "but as we find ways to make it more efficient, things start to shift toward some real savings."

Johnston said the school purchased shares in a local CSA for the first time this year to get more local produce while saving the school more money.

"All of our vegetables that we don't get out of our own garden we get from them," said Holbrook.

The school's garden has expanded in the past year to include a geodesic greenhouse, which was purchased with generous donations from the High Peaks Education Foundation and the Keene Valley Congregational Church.

Students and community volunteers help Holbrook tend the garden, which sits adjacent to the school's soccer fields.

"A lot of times when we have the kids go out and pick peas or something, a lot of it won't make it back in, because the kids will eat them right up,"Holbrook said.

In addition, the garden has become an integral part of the curriculum at multiple grade levels as students study the science of composting and photosynthesis, study the new greenhouse as a model for global warming, and discuss good nutrition.

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