Wilson School students learn by growing plants in food garden
Wilson School students grew cabbage in Manchester's New Horizons outdoor food garden
MANCHESTER — Wilson School fourth graders, who grew cabbage plants from seed this spring, went to the New Horizons shelter on Manchester Street Friday and put their cabbage plants in raised beds outside the shelter’s greenhouse.
During a tour of the shelter, Executive Director Charlie Sherman talked to the youngsters about who the shelter assists and how their plant project will help feed people in need.
Sherman said many of the people who come to the shelter for meals are families and are not homeless, but do not have enough money to feed themselves healthy meals.
The Wilson School cabbage project was the brainchild of retired educator Kate Hogan, who wanted the children not only to experience the magic of growing something from a seed, but also to learn about the shelter and what it tries to do in helping the hungry and the homeless.
Hogan, who is technically retired after years of teaching at Wilson School, still substitutes there and was looking for a special project. “Someplace to put my energy,” said the tiny woman, who volunteers at New Horizons.
She wondered: “What can I do to get them here?” Then, when the 30-by-72 greenhouse became a reality on the vacant lot to the west of the shelter, it came to her: hydroponically grown cabbage plants. “I went in every Thursday,” she said.
There’s no doubt the kids bought into the cabbage project. Serenity Willis, Jorvy Batista and Steven Smith, all 10-year-old fourth graders, explained how they helped, including making sure the seeds and, later the plants, got enough water and nutrients. They all referred to plant food or fertilizer as “nutrients.”
Willis said she had some experience. “I plant carrots, watermelon, strawberries and onions,” she said. Smith is nurturing four-leaf clovers, but he said he also grows broccoli, cabbage and watermelon. “I grow tomatoes,” he said. “I water them and give the plants food.”
Batista said he had no previous gardening experience. Although his family had a house plant, he said: “It got kind of droopy.” It was passed on to a neighbor.
His hands-on experience with the school cabbage project had a better outcome. “I was a planter,” he said, and his responsibilities included “making sure they were still there.”
Friday was a busy day at the greenhouse, with onion sets and other vegetables being planted indoors by other volunteers. The plants were inserted into holes in sheets of black plastic mulch, with drip irrigation. Large pots of herbs sat on a two-tier stand, ready to be harvested and used in food prepared in the New Horizons kitchen. Pea plants have begun to climb up supports and overhead, hanging baskets of strawberry plants, each with an individual watering tube, hang near the roof.
On the east side of the greenhouse are composting bins, and on the west are the raised beds for vegetables. Outside the metal fence, inside wooden plant boxes, are large pots of flowering plants, selected to attract butterflies and bees needed for the outdoor vegetable plants to produce a usable crop.
Sherman said he hopes people in the neighborhood enjoy the flowers and respect their importance in ensuring healthy, homegrown food for shelter meals.
Hogan, for her part, wants to make sure the Wilson School planting project continues. “We’ve got to keep this going,” she said. Next school year, she said: “I’ll go in once a month from March on.” She’d like to continue working with these two classes, but hopes others will participate. “Maybe it will expand,” she said, and become a project of Wilson School.
It’s important, she said, for the children to understand the purpose of what she calls the hunger project. It’s growing food “that is going over there to feed people,” she said, pointing toward the shelter.