by Bess Hauser

In January of 2011, a group of parents and teachers began to discuss the possibility of a garden at P.S. 32. As the plan began to take shape, Principal Deborah Florio signed on wholeheartedly and assigned two staff members to incorporate the garden into the curriculum. The result was a spiraling curriculum of New York State-mandated studies in both science and social studies for all of our students, pre-K through 5th grade. The intent is that once a student has graduated from our school, they will have a broad view of urban gardening.

Looking back, it was this up-front commitment from the principal of the school that paved the way for all of our progress.

The first thing we did once we had the green light was to register with Grow To Learn. Andrew Barrett, from that organization, did a site visit and became an amazing resource in educating us about the school garden community in NYC. With our registration, we were able to apply for a $2000 mini-grant from Grow to Learn, which enabled us to invest in our first raised beds. Since then, we have received grants from Brown Rudnick, Citizens Committee of New York and Lowe’s Toolbox. With all of these funds, plus some community donations, we have been able to build more than a dozen sub-irrigated beds, purchase a tool shed, and create a composting area. We are currently working on creating an outdoor classroom space.

We have found that some of our biggest challenges are generating teacher excitement about using the garden, communication between the teachers and the Garden Committee regarding what is going on in the garden, and involving parents in helping with maintenance. This year, our goals are to work on these. To help communication and increase ownership of the garden, we are assigning each grade a specific bed to use throughout the year. We hope this will give students a feeling of ownership of a certain portion of the garden, possibly motivate parents to come assist with their child’s plot, and remove any question of who needs to tend, water or harvest each particular bed. We have also begun giving a monthly “tour” of the garden to the teachers so that we can point out changes that they can pass along to their students. Our hope is that this will help familiarize the teachers with the yearly cycles in the garden, even ones they are not directly involved in. In January, we will be attending curriculum meetings for each grade so that we can specifically target which areas of their garden curriculum they need more support with. From there, we can procure supplies, search for existing curriculum for teachers to implement, bring in experts, or just provide in-classroom assistance when needed. We hope that we can help them set up a plan to utilize their bed throughout the year.