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By Michelle DiMuzio, Slow Food USA Editorial Intern
Photos by 

“It opens up the students’ world. So many students haven’t tasted fresh fruit or vegetables and they don’t realize food doesn’t come from a plastic container.” — Kate Thibault

Spring is underway and that means many of us are enjoying emerging flower buds, sprouting splashes of color and the smell of fresh rainfall. Gardeners are sowing seeds and waiting patiently for first sprouts to emerge from the soil.

A.W. Becker Elementary School in Selkirk, NY is feeling especially excited for Spring. On March 18, Slow Food NY State (SFNYS) launched its Upstate School Gardens Initiative and granted the school $1,500 to help develop a school garden. SFNYS received a $5,000 grant from Slow Food East End to help launch the initiative. 

Pierre Friedrichs, Slow Food New York State vice chair and SFUSA governor for New York, commented, “Slow Food New York State is delighted to kick off our Upstate School Gardens Initiative, which teaches kids about good, clean, fair food through the joy of planning, [growing] and eating food.” Growing up on a farm in Louisiana, Pierre learned to appreciate the freshness of food from a young age, sharing memories of taking a bite out of a red tomato off the vine and fresh peaches with juice running down his face on family trips to Georgia.

“Kids say [they] don’t like green beans until they pick them off a bush that is fresh, versus the mush out of a can,” explained Pierre. “It’s about being able to share those experiences with kids that don’t really have that and how delicious things can be when they’re grown properly and healthy.”

I also spoke with Kate Thibault, the first-grade teacher at Becker Elementary supporting the school’s efforts to develop the garden program, about the initiative. Kate’s passion for starting the school garden is similar; “It opens up the students’ world. So many students haven’t tasted fresh fruit or vegetables and they don’t realize food doesn’t come from a plastic container.”

While the pandemic has delayed the start of the garden project, Kate and the school community are more than ready to get started. With the support of the principal, superintendent and other members of the community, they have used a portion of the grant money to purchase raised beds. The long-term vision is to create a robust curriculum centered around the school garden, with each grade level managing a raised bed. Pierre will support development of the garden with SFNYS as well as the expansion of the Upstate School Gardens Initiative to fund more gardens in the area.

In the meantime, Kate and her first-grade students have started a small garden in her classroom, growing Old Carolina Tomatoes from this year’s Plant A Seed kit. “It’s a joy for me to be able to see kids have this experience,” Kate expressed.

Congratulations to Slow Food New York State on launching this great initiative, and to the A.W. Becker Elementary School community for making their school garden dreams a reality. We look forward to watching your garden grow!

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