Putney Central School revitalizes its school garden and orchard

Putney Central School students, staff, and families came together to revitalize their garden and orchard. Photo provided
Putney Central School students, staff, and families came together to revitalize their garden and orchard. Photo provided

PUTNEY, Vt. – The Putney Central School community celebrated May Day 2021 with a garden renaissance work party. School staff, students, and their families turned out on a chilly, sunny morning to prepare the garden for the upcoming season.

The group revitalized the six raised beds, which needed fresh wooden frames and soil amendments after nearly a decade of use by classrooms. They planted seven new fruit trees – plum, cherry, apple, and pear – in the school’s large orchard. And they celebrated the roughly 11,000-square-foot freshly tilled garden area – a revitalized project for the school that will be a crop-bearing garden growing vegetables to process, freeze, and serve in the school meal program.

Principal Herve Pelletier was pleasantly surprised by the strong turnout of school families, eager to gather together in person outside after a long winter to celebrate spring. This work party was an opportunity to breathe new life into the school’s decade-plus old Farm to School program – a central part of the school’s curriculum and culture. “We first started our involvement with Farm to School about 10 years ago,” says Herve, “and so to see the energy around this event and the commitment to the work that needs to be done is just great.”

Sustainability Coordinator and Food Service Director Steve Hed is delighted to move forward with the more extensive garden. As a champion of local food and hands-on farm, food, and nutrition education for all students, he dreams of producing more food on campus and increasing student involvement in the garden. A combination of grant funding and local funds made it possible to build a much larger walk-in fridge and freezer for the school, which has made it finally possible to dream big and create a production garden on campus.

Students will help grow, harvest, and prepare fresh produce from the garden, with support from Steve and classroom teachers who will integrate these experiences into the curriculum. Steve and his team will serve these hyper-local foods at school meals so that all students can share in Putney Central School’s harvest. Steve is passionate about teaching students the importance of nutrition and health. He believes that school food service should be a significant part of the curriculum. “Teaching kids, particularly at a young age, how to eat right now, just like learning ABCs, can impact them positively or negatively throughout their whole life,” says Steve.

In addition to the families and staff who turned out on May 1 to build and plant together, several other community partners supported this project, including apple trees from Scott Farm Orchard; plum, cherry, and pear trees from Mark Mowrey; tree expertise from PCS parent and Sullivan County Natural Resources Director Lionel Chute; raised bed timbers from Carl Mosher; high-quality compost from Bazin Farms; rototilling the newly revived garden plot by Eric McGowan; and seeds, garden support, and Farm to School coaching and programming from Food Connects.

“Honestly, it would be impossible to take on a project of this scale without the support of so many of our parents and community members,” says Herve.

Putney Central School is laying the foundation for a program that will have a considerable impact on the lives of children in the community for many years to come.

Putney Central School is an exceptional pre-K through grade 8 school located in beautiful southern Vermont.

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