Albany’s Vegetable Project teaches kids about gardening

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Stoneman sees gardening as more than a way to coax seeds into fruiting plants, more than a summer pastime, more than a harvest. For Stoneman, a garden is a classroom.

Eighth-graders who found themselves in a hallway at Stephen and Harriet Myers College in Albany on a cold, rainy Monday are unaware of university research on hands-on learning, also known as kinesthetic learning. They don’t think about the neural pathways formed using touch, taste and smell as part of a lesson. They know that if they follow the steps presented to them, they will eventually be able to say that they have grown their own food.

“I like it because it’s simple,” said Mercedes Rodriguez Fabian, who has grown vegetables in the school garden before. “Looks like it’s going to happen.”

Stoneman founded the Vegetable Project in 2009 as he completed his teaching degree after a mid-career professional change. A parent whose daughter graduated from Albany High School, he is both committed and critical of the city’s public schools. While working steadily as a substitute teacher in high school, he saw some students succeed and others who were lost, left behind by a method that has a teacher “shoveling information at them” from the front. of the room. His motivation was also personal. He hated school as a child, always searching for a satisfying answer to his question, “why do we have to learn this?” »

“There are so many children for whom the existing structures don’t work,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of them is that schools aren’t doing everything they could be doing.”

The Vegetable Project is Stoneman’s way of making up for what a traditional school day lacks by providing hands-on experiences for children. At Myers, Stoneman and a team of volunteers walked students through the steps of making a greenhouse out of a milk jug. First they cut the jugs in half and drilled the top half with a power drill – the first time many children have used a power tool – then they filled the bottom of the jug with potting soil, planted seeds and watered them. The last step is to glue the top and write their names on it before the jugs are moved outside.

“Handling the tiny seeds slows them down and slows them down,” said Malayshia Hector, a University of Albany student and volunteer with the Vegetable Project. “The seed is packed with everything it needs to live.”

Stoneman and his volunteers guided 125 Myers students in making a milk jug greenhouse in March, and by the time they’re done in early April, more than 500 district kids will have made one planted with beans or broccoli. , herbs or other cold -tolerant vegetables. He has ambitions beyond one-day projects and hopes to expand Myers Garden into an outdoor learning center with a four-season greenhouse, outdoor classroom, orchard and more. The lessons a garden teaches include responsibility – caring for gardening as it grows – a process embedded with lessons about science; entrepreneurship, when students have the opportunity to sell their products, set a fair price and interact with customers; and a loftier goal: stewardship of the land, air and water necessary for thriving vegetables – and a healthy planet.

Stoneman said not every educator he’s met over the years has embraced the concept, but he’s found enthusiastic partners in Larry Drew, who teaches family and consumer science at Myers, and school principal Bill Rivers, who said it was great to see kids doing any hands. -on learning.


Drew started a farm-to-table program last year, where his students use vegetables harvested from the school garden to prepare a meal. It’s hard to know the long-term impact of introducing students to gardening, but in the short term, he finds that a large percentage of them become deeply engaged, focused and social when interacting with volunteers. .

Drew’s goal is for his students to enjoy the gardening process and understand that you can plant a seed and six weeks later eat pea shoots. There is a wide mix of students at the school, Drew said. Some help around the house with shopping and cooking, others have never set foot in a kitchen. Some live in rowdy houses. All were hurt by months of sequestration in their bedrooms during the pandemic, when learning was attempted through a screen.

“I would like them to think long term about where their food comes from and what they’re injecting into their bodies,” Drew said. “There are farms all around Albany and farmers markets. I want them to know there is good fresh food available if you make an effort to find it. I hope they bring this back. knowledge at home and share it with their parents.”

Recommended readings by Bill Stoneman, founder of the Vegetable Project: “The Well-Gardened Mind – the Restorative Power of Nature” by Sue Stuart-Smith and “Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv.


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