Brayton Elementary third-graders grow a healthy garden

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Photo Gallery | Brayton Elementary School visits Berkshire Food Project

NORTH ADAMS — Good ideas are growing between Berkshire Food Project and Brayton Elementary School.

For nearly a decade, Jennifer Munoz of the Growing Healthy Garden Program, has worked with the school's third-grade classes, which have been tapped as stewards of Brayton's gardens. All the produce that is harvested from the school's eight garden beds is donated to the Berkshire Food Project, which provides hundreds of free, healthy, nutritious meals to the Northern Berkshire community each week.

Seventeen students from Robyn Lawson's third-grade class recently visited the meal site to learn more about how food donations play a role of the project's daily operations.

"It's important for them to understand how Berkshire Food Project works, because they grow the food that goes here," Munoz said of the students' visit.

Berkshire Food Project Executive Director Valerie Schwarz said some students in the group were visiting for the first time, while others regularly access Berkshire Food Project meals and resources with their families.

"It's a good program because maybe some people don't have enough to eat and they get to come here and they can also learn to grow their own vegetables," third-grader Taryn Layme said. She and her classmate, Trinity Brackett, said they and their families are eager to work with Munoz and Schwarz to start their own neighborhood gardening project to help benefit Berkshire Food Project.

Schwarz said such projects have significant community impact. She estimated that Brayton's garden alone contributes an average of 100 pounds of leafy greens and herbs to the site's kitchen each school year. Other North Adams public schools, through the Growing Healthy Garden Program, donate annually an added 250 pounds or so of fresh vegetables, like peas, carrots and greens like kale and bok choy.

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"As part of our curriculum the students work with Jennifer [Munoz] to research vegetables and plants, develop planting maps, and care for the garden throughout the school year," said Lawson. She noted how this means that the kids organically learn about how healthy, nutritious meals are made, from garden to kitchen to table.

The teacher said third-graders also create questions and practice interview skills and public speaking through interviewing Schwarz, who visits the school at the beginning of the year, to find out what Schwarz needs to make the food project successful.

This year Lawson's student, Amiracle Sobel, learned a bit about branding and marketing, when she was selected as the winning designer of a Berkshire Food Project T-shirt logo. Her design got printed on dark purple shirts and promoted during the project's Empty Bowl soup dinner fundraiser held back in April, at the First Congregational Church, where Berkshire Food Project is based.

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"I love the garden because you get to play with dirt and it's fun planting," Sobel said.

This year, Brayton's garden has a fairy theme, as inspired by a Berkshire Mountains Faerie Festival coming to Noel Field in North Adams on June 25. The garden contains Tom Thumb lettuce, Dragon Tongue beans, yellow ground cherries and the like. It's also adorned with whimsical fairy houses and doors.

Lawson said this year's garden has been subject to some vandalism, but "the kids are undeterred," as they continue to tireless tend to and chart the progress of their small crops.

"Their garden is a source of pride for the kids," Munoz said.

During the class Berkshire Food Project visit, the kids first toured the kitchen and saw how food was prepped in bulk, from soup to tuna fish sandwiches to a large sheet cake made with local maple syrup.

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They then went upstairs to take turns looking in the project's food pantry. Next, they headed outdoors to the church lawn where there are a few raised garden beds, a gift to Berkshire Food Project from Brayton predecessors.

Then, Munoz walked small teams of students through the process of transplanting dill seedlings from seed pot to garden. The group then wrapped its visit by sitting in the same dining hall as Berkshire Food Project patrons and enjoyed juicy wedges of watermelon, prepared by the day's kitchen staff and volunteers.

Several students expressed feeling a sense of community after their visit.

"It's so exciting to be here," said Kaylee Lescarbeau. "I love it."

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.

• Berkshire Food Project serves free community meals each weekday at noon at the First Congregational Church, 134 Main St., North Adams. Info: or 413-664-7378

• Growing Healthy Garden Program has more than a dozen Northern Berkshire locations, and is free and open to anyone interested in learning to garden. Info: or call 413-663-8131


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