Each autumn in the Pocantico Hills School District, students participate in the much-anticipated Garden Harvest event. The yearly tradition that is part of PHCSD’s Growing and Gardening program teaches students about farming and sustainability and culminates with a delicious meal made from student-picked vegetables from the school’s community garden.
This year’s event fell on an unseasonably cool day in early October, but gloomy skies and chilly temperatures didn’t deter students from hurrying excitedly toward the garden’s entrance, where head gardener Jose Zamora welcomed each class.
“Seeing how happy the kids get when picking veggies is what it’s all about,” said Zamora.
Thanks to Zamora, a small plot of once barren land on the grounds of the school has become a bountiful oasis. From carrots to corn, from sage to squash, his meticulously maintained garden now boasts various vegetables, plants, herbs, and flowers.
“That smells delicious!” exclaimed one student as Zamora waved long leaves of lemongrass through the air. “That’s awesome!” shouted another at the sight of a pineapple growing in the greenhouse.
Shortly after the demonstrations, students were able to pick vegetables for homemade soup that would later be made by the kitchen staff and served at lunch later in the week.
“I liked picking the carrots because you never know what you’re going to get,” said Ronin K.
Savanah B. noted that her favorite vegetable is broccoli (but it must be steamed, of course!)
Taya Z. said she loves tomatoes the most.
“I like all different vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, apples – especially in a salad,” Matthew B. remarked.
Principal Adam Brown and School Resource Officer Peter Blume also joined in the fun, helping children extract stubborn carrot bunches from the soil.
“We were looking for ways to expand the Growing and Gardening program, and this fits right in,” said Brown. “We connect it to elements of our science and sustainability curriculum, the kids really appreciate this event and look forward to it every year.”
About a week after the harvest, on a much brighter fall day, all those glorious veggies that had been picked by the students were back! This time they were diced up and cooked in a soup, then served during lunch to a cafeteria full of hungry children.
“Well, I like that it’s cooked with veggies,” second grader Clara M. said about the soup. She had been telling her friends, and anyone else who would listen, that they HAD to try the soup.
Family and Consumer Science teacher Alyson Morilla had lidded cups of soup on a tray and walked around the cafeteria offering soup to students.
“I really like it,” Phoebe M. told her.
Grilled cheese sandwiches made with whole grain bread and grapes were also on the menu and served as the perfect accompaniment on a crisp fall day.
“The carrots, and also the broth,” second grader Kai-Anon W. said of what she liked most about the soup.
“I harvested tomatoes and beans,” recalled Ipsa V. who was excited to see them again as part of her lunch.
“It tastes good, I love it,” Khalev H. said.
Seventh grader Tracen W. agreed, “it’s good,” he said.
Fourth grader Eric L. didn’t have to say anything about whether he enjoyed it, his actions spoke volumes — he picked up his cup of soup and drank the broth until there was nothing left in the bowl.
The Pocantico Hills garden was also a source for previous cooking demonstrations. Earlier last month, Zamora presented to the Family and Consumer Science classes about Mexican corn tortillas, tostadas, and quesadillas. Afterwards the classes enjoyed delicious tostadas coated with freshly picked beans. To show their appreciation, students wrote thank you letters to Zamora which were given to him on the day of the fall harvest event.
“Receiving these letters is what motivates me to continue this tradition every year,” Zamora reflected.