Columbia Memorial Health (1) Careers

FROM FARM TO SCHOOL: Butterflies, berries and birds — Oh My!



A MODEST BUTTERFLY GARDEN at Ichabod Crane’s Primary School is blossoming into a much bigger enterprise. It’s got the K-2 girls and boys beaming. They can get their hands dirty and make their teachers happy at the same time!

School gardens like Ichabod’s are part of the Farm to School movement. They turn a little bit of the schoolyard into a farm, and when harvest time rolls around, guess who’s excited about those fruits and vegetables? The students who raised them. If they plant it, water it, harvest it, wash it, prepare it, and/or cook it, they tend to eat it (or at least try it).

Gardens can improve a child’s eating habits, and that’s only one of the wonderful outcomes when students become farmers.

Here’s what led up to this at Ichabod last year: students were learning about the life cycle. Before students’ wondering eyes, what should appear from their creepy crawly classroom caterpillars but fabulous creatures that wanted to flutter outdoors — in a milkweed patch, say. Better yet, in a full-fledged butterfly garden!

And ideas and contributions started to flow. A retiring teacher’s table-top gardens migrated to the primary school. A student’s father unleashed his landscape-design talents to map out a dream: one garden especially for birds, another for hummingbirds, another for other wildlife; plus a sensory garden, a vegetable garden and a winter garden; plus a berry patch; plus a greenhouse, tool shed and potting bench. In the center of it all, “Nature’s Classroom” — a circle of benches and tables where readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic will draw on plentiful nature-themed materials and concepts. Life as learning.

The inaugural harvest found its way into the likes of student-made pasta sauce and bruschetta.

But now summer’s coming, and vacation means nobody’s home when the bulk of the work is at hand. Meeting that challenge are volunteer families who sign up to do a week of chores (and get to reap whatever ripens). Watering, weeding — and eating! Volunteers are still needed for this summer.

This year, each of the county’s public schools has a garden, each facing its own set of challenges. PTAs, private businesses, parents, farmers, and community volunteers strategize, design, fundraise, shop, and, yes, weed. A support group, School Partners in Gardening, visits a different school every month to admire its garden and to share ideas and funding grants. Grounds crews patiently find ways to adapt, as new obstacles to mowing are blithely dug out of their neat lawns and then planted and edged, all in the name of better education for our kids.

Two of many places to volunteer:

*Ichabod Primary: contact Karen Vecellio at 518 758-6931 or

*Taconic Hills HARVEST Club: Old Fashioned Community Work Bee this Saturday, June 4, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; contact Sandra Gardner at 518 325-2805 or

The Columbia County Farm to School Program is part of the Healthcare Consortium’s Kids in Motion program, geared to promoting nutrition and recreation in grades K-8 to combat childhood obesity. Information about Kids in Motion and Farm to School is available at or at 518 822-8820, ext. 317.

Did the bluebird we spied surveying the garden at Ichabod Primary find it a happy site? We think it did.

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