Eight years and running, Anna Maria Elementary School has taught sustainable food production and healthy eating in a partnership with the community in its edible garden program for fourth-graders.
Beach Bistro funds the Earthboxes, soil and seeds.
AME fourth-grade classes — with help from master gardener and volunteer Christine Callahan and others — plant, tend and harvest their “edible garden,” which grows outdoors alongside the school cafeteria.
“From my point of view, the fourth-grade is a great age for the program,” says Callahan, a software developer by profession who’s seen the program through all eight years, having had her two children attend AME.
She teaches the fourth-grade class once a month in the garden, and credits other parents, gardeners, guidance counselor Cindi Harrison and cafeteria manager Annie Mousseau for supporting the program.
In her outdoor classroom, students learn about pesticide-free sustainable planting — fertilizing and treating for insects “without poison ” — among other gardening techniques.
“Our biggest problem — that we’ve really been struggling with — is mildew on cucumbers and squash,” Callahan explains, and adds they’ve been successful in treating it with an organic spray of vegetable oil, baking soda and warm water.
The fourth-grade teachers integrate the program into the classroom with lessons on plant cycle, nutrition and math, including weights and measures.
“We try to connect it as a precursor to a lesson or as a reminder, a refresher,” she says.
The students’ first fall-winter harvest is delivered to Eat Here for hands-on cooking lessons.
At the Dec. 13 lesson, the students contributed broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, lettuce and radishes from their garden.
Susan Timmins, Eat Here/Beach Bistro co-owner and wife of Murphy, helped the kids learn to make the wraps and vegetable pizza they dined on, all easily replicated at home.
In late April, the spring harvest will be delivered to the Beach Bistro, where chefs will create a luncheon for the students, she adds.
“It’s prepared in its finest form,” says Callahan. “The meal is always based on what comes from the students’ gardens.”