2018-08-30 / Front Page

Pell Gardens Harvest Future for Students

By Amy Martin


Third grader Freja Doyle reaches in for a ripe tomato at the Pell School community garden. Over the summer she and her family tended the gardens which were planted with kale, peas and cucumbers. Third grader Freja Doyle reaches in for a ripe tomato at the Pell School community garden. Over the summer she and her family tended the gardens which were planted with kale, peas and cucumbers. The fruits of many laborers will be reaped soon by the students of Pell Elementary School when the community gardens that were planted at the school in conjunction with Aquidneck Community Table (ACT) last spring are ready for harvest.

Nine beds were planted outside the windows of the first-grade classrooms with the help of ACT and school volunteers. ACT is the product of a three-organization merger in early 2016 of Aquidneck Growers’ Market, Island Commons Food Initiative and Sustainable Aquidneck.

Pell’s Aaron Sherman is the lead first-grade teacher involved in the initiative, and implemented it, “understanding that the gardens could serve as a tool to teach multiple [subjects]… from science to nutrition to community responsibility,” said Nikki Vasquez, the ACT/Pell program manager.

Pell Elementary is the first school that ACT has partnered with for its community gardens program.

Maintaining the beds over the summer was a collective effort by Pell family and ACT volunteers,

Vasquez and Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (MET) senior Victoria Moreino.

For 10 weeks, a Pell family volunteer took charge of watering, weeding and harvesting the beds to ensure optimal growth was achieved by the start of the school year.

“You need to [harvest throughout the summer] so the plant keeps throwing off the flowers for the fruit [and] it keeps producing,” Vasquez said, “[by] September when the kids come back.

“The [Pell] families sent me really fun pictures of their kids in the gardens and at home making recipes from the harvested vegetables, like Swiss chard,” Vasquez said. “The hope is that this becomes part of their norm so that [they] are asking for the vegetables by name and are learning.”

Moreino became involved with the program through her high school. She has dedicated the summer to caring for the gardens, both at Pell and at MET, supplementing the work of the volunteer families caring for the beds at Pell.

“My principal thought it’d be a good idea to relieve some stress by planting,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t have a thing for gardening, but I like it now. It’s a good process… seeing everything grow. It relaxes me.”

Once the school year begins, the responsibility of care will fall mainly to the students as they harvest tomatoes, squash, string beans and pumpkins, among many other types of vegetation.

Chartwells, the school’s lunch company, will be incorporating the vegetables into the lunch menu, so all of the students will be exposed to the rewards of the gardening effort.

"Serving garden produce in the cafeteria promotes student consumption of foods that may be new to them and encourages healthy eating habits,” said Cindy King, director of dining services for Newport public schools. “The school garden project also provides an opportunity for physical activity and reinforces the concept of food origins, knowing where your food comes from. "

ACT’s hope is to bring the Pell community gardening initiative full circle during ACT’s food challenge week, Sept. 22-29.

“ACT does a local food challenge and gets a bunch of restaurants involved in community events during the week, to focus on the health benefits, the community benefits and the economic benefits of keeping your money and your food local, and how that’s a better fit,” Vazquez said.

“We want to bring this full circle for the kids, especially [during that week]. The school did it last year, featuring local carrots and local apples at lunch.”

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