Within the Schenectady City School District (SCSD), Rebekka Henriksen who serves as the Farm to School Project Manager, as well as the specialist for Equity & Engagement within the Office of Innovation, has been running the Farm to School program for the past two years. The Zoller Garden used to be a parent engagement activity but has blossomed into something so much more than that. It’s a place where children who cannot be as engaged in traditional learning styles,u can find enthusiasm with hands-on activities, in the garden. 

In July 2022, SCSD was awarded a $100,000 Farm to School Implementation Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The funding will be used to continue expansion of the district’s Farm to School Program, including training food service staff, providing additional education in classrooms and cafeterias, increasing the volume and variety of local specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and grains used in school lunches, providing hands-on curriculum tied to core subject areas, and expanding and improving school gardens and related programming, according to a statement from SCSD. 

Gardens for learning!

The SCSD is home to 15 gardens spread across its schools. Each of these gardens is overseen by a dedicated garden lead, who not only tends to the garden’s needs but also serves as the primary point of contact for any information or queries pertaining to the respective school’s garden. As Project Manager, Henriksen tries to go to each school to help where it is needed. At some schools, garden maintenance is more of a challenge than others due to lack of bandwidth.

“I’m in the process of identifying buildings that are kind of struggling right now that I can go and spend more time at [them] and do more lessons there, do more garden hours, and to try to get some momentum going,” said Henriksen. 

Within the gardens, an intricate network of worm bins facilitates the essential process of composting. Scattered throughout the school district, these 15 bins play a pivotal role in expediting decomposition, thereby elevating the nutrient density of compost utilized within the indoor gardens.

These worms serve as more than garden companions; they also serve as valuable educational resources for children immersed in experiential learning. Within the confines of these indoor gardens, young learners actively engage with the composting process, utilizing their snack waste as a practical lesson in sustainability and environmental stewardship. This hands-on experience not only enriches their understanding of ecological cycles but also cultivates a deeper appreciation for responsible waste management practices. 

Flowers as Food?!

Amongst produce like various fruits and vegetables, in the gardens one can also find edible flowers such as nasturtium, chive flowers, broccoli flowers, borage, and marigolds. Not only are these types of plants grown for the enjoyment of the kids but they attract insects to the garden to help them thrive.

“They attract beneficial insects, like lacewing that you would want in the gardens,” said Henriksen.

One practice in these gardens involves allowing garden produce to flower and subsequently go to seed. This hands-on approach enables children to witness firsthand the life cycle of seeds. They have the opportunity to observe the transformation from blossoms to mature seeds, gaining a deeper understanding of the natural processes that occur in plant reproduction.

Nasturtium flower

As the most established garden in the district, located at Jessie T. Zoller Elementary School, Henriksen uses it as a testing ground for different ideas. At Zoller, there is a smaller scale apple orchard with 18 trees and aim to plant at least three more trees soon. 

This past month, some produce grown within these gardens and, SICMRoots & Wisdom, Zoller elementary, and the Schenectady Greenmarket, were given away at Farm to School pop-up markets around the district. This year, they were only able to stop at four schools within the district, but they hope to expand to more within the SCSD.

On November 4, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Farm to School program will be hosting a pumpkin smash, a way to recycle your old Halloween pumpkins. Look here for more information!

To learn more about the farm to school program, email Rebekka at henriksenr@schenectadyschools.org

Stay tuned to our website for Rebekka’s column, “Gardening With Kids“, to see what the latest on the Farm to School program is!