Organic Garden Provides Hands-On Learning for Students
Posted 10/03/2018 08:41AM

The Governor’s Academy organic garden has been in existence for about ten years, but the addition of a designated organic plot exclusively for use in our campus dining hall is a recent development.

Former campus facilities employee Peter Swift began the garden ten years ago as a passion project with the goal of sharing some of the harvest with the dining hall. When Swift retired three years ago, Science Teacher Lisa Borgatti and Arts Department Chair Belle Struck took over the garden responsibilities. Mrs. Borgatti and Ms. Struck began thinking of ways to expand the garden, and began a "community garden" initiative for any faculty or staff member who wanted to have their own plot. 2018 was the first year that they were able to extend the garden to include a large organic plot for use in the Academy’s dining hall.

In the spring of 2018, Monserrat Gabisch '18 decided to start the plot for the dining hall for her Spring Term Project. Monserrat '18 started seedlings and planting in April and May of this year, then Rose Robinson '20 took on the responsibilities this summer through an internship. Robinson '20 planted the plants, watered, weeded, and maintained the entire plot. The dining hall plot is laid with drip irrigation to conserve water, and all plants, fertilizer and weed deterrent used in the garden must be organic and non-toxic. This fall, the harvest has included tomatoes, potatoes, and fresh herbs -all of which will be used by our chefs and cooks in the dining hall. Robinson '20 hopes to expand the growing area for next season in order to grow even more food for the dining hall.  

The organic garden has provided real hands on learning for science students at the Academy. Mrs. Borgatti said that when she realized that many of her students were lacking a connection to the food they eat, she started to think of ways to weave it into the curriculum. She incorporated the organic garden into her curriculum last year in Honors Environmental Science when her students planted wheat in the fall, harvested it in the spring, and ground it into flour which they then baked bread from. Her AP Environmental class this year completed a lab experiment studying the impact of salinity on seed growth and how that will translate into the seeds that students will be growing for next year’s garden.

The garden’s planting cycle begins a bit later than usual in order to delay the harvest to coincide with the start of the school year. Mrs. Borgatti, Ms. Struck, and students use the soil block method to block out seedlings for early germination, which eliminates plastic waste. The soil blocks are placed on growing boards under a series of grow lights in the science department project room for three to five weeks depending on the plant. The plants are monitored throughout the week by environmental science students who are responsible for watering. Mrs. Borgatti and Ms. Struck check in on the plants on the weekend. As planting time approaches, for several days, the seedlings are transferred outside during the day for "hardening," which acclimate them to direct sunlight and environmental conditions and then brought back inside at night time.

Mrs. Borgatti says that the garden tie-ins to their curriculum help to make science more real for students. It also means getting students thinking with questions like: how does the salting of the roads in the winter translate to our harvest, since our garden is so close in proximity to Route 1? Does the application of salt have an overall impact on the greater environment? Mrs. Borgatti says "We hope that the use of the garden as a resource will continue to expand beyond the sciences." 


Rose '21 poses in front of the plot she cared for this summer 


Haodi '20 and Katie '20 in the garden harvesting potatoes this autumn

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