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Growing Tomatillos and Minds in NYC

BY BETH BECKMAN | www.lilkidbigcity.com

Visiting the Schoolyard Farm at PS 373 in NYC 

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Across the concrete parking lot, behind a chain link fence, and into the shadows of the grand brick exterior of PS 373 in Brooklyn, lies something special that one would never expect.

A blossoming, beautiful, garden.

Not just any garden, this garden is grown, supported, operated, and loved by the students of PS 373, a school for children with disabilities.

We recently toured this amazing garden to see the work of these students, and to learn about the story behind the garden, and this incredible institution.

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Known as the Brooklyn Transition Center, Public High School PS 373 is part of the special District 75 school system of New York City; schools that are designed to teach and help students with disabilities. District 75 schools are committed to helping all students achieve success academically, and are equipped to give each child special care and consideration in their teaching efforts. Through these special facilities, accommodations, teacher services, and classes these schools create a tremendous learning experience for these children, and their families.

With over 350 students, PS 373 is one of the largest District 75 schools in the city. The facilities and accommodations serve the children’s special needs, and they have on-staff OT (Occupational Therapists), PT (Physical Therapists), and Speech Therapists to help, aid, and guide the students.

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The schoolyard garden is part of Grow to Learn – the citywide school garden Initiative that was established by GrowNYC and The Mayor’s Fund to advance NYC to inspire, facilitate and promote the creation of a sustainable school garden in each and every public school across New York City.

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The garden at PS 373 has become an epicenter to much of the schools programing, and serves as a grand outdoor classroom for the children to learn from and explore.  The teachers bring the children to the garden for many subjects and lessons, including physics, science, culinary specific programs, math lessons, and more.

One of the specific classes is a vocational farming program, where the children are taught how to grow, care for, and create a garden together. The class also teaches the students about having their own market– where the children price out all the food, work on the accounting, and marketing. The children even help in the selling of the food at a market located within the school. Community members stop by the market to purchase produce, and also place orders through email.

Even more special – the students are sent home with free nutritious food! Planting the seed to continue the discussion of healthy food and their school day at home, and sharing with their family food that they had a part of, that they helped create and grow.

Our foodies were excited to explore this amazing farm.

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The farm may be small in size, but it is large is variety. The schoolyard farm grows almost anything one can think of – from leafy greens, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, radishes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions, herbs, and more.

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And don’t forget the corn! Such an amazing sight – just look at the incredible height of these corn stalks!

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Drinking in the lush landscape. The boys helped to give a hand in watering the vegetable beds.

The farm is created with numerous plant beds that line the space. We learned that the many vegetables and fruits are intermixed within these plant beds, for biodiversity.

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Love the charming hand painted signs that labeled the plants.

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While bees buzzed nearby…

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The garden buzzed with discovery. The lush garden held countless vegetable treasures!

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Maura, one of the amazing teachers at the farm gave us a tour, and helped show our foodies the grounds.

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You always need to look closely – Surprise! A yam, hiding within the leaves.

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What’s this mommy? Is this an apple?

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“I’ve never seen anything like this before!” Lil Kid exclaimed as he held up a mysterious pod from a tree.

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Maura explained that you can peel away the husk to find the hidden vegeatble inside. The chidlren loved this part- like opening a present! It was exciting to find what was hidden underneath the green leaves.

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A tomato! Maura explained it was a Spanish Tomato (also known as Tomatillo). She told the children that the tomato has a bitter taste, and is best reserved for salsas and similar food.

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Maura then opened the tomato to show the children what lies inside – seeds! She explained to the children that these seeds could be replanted to grow more tomatillo trees.

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Such an amazing learning lesson in hand, and experience the children will never forget.

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A huge thank you to Nicole, Maura, and the entire staff and team for opening the doors and allowing us to tour your magnificent teaching garden dream.

ps373-garden-sbGrow to Learn is one of the community partners of the upcoming Farm Fresh Festival at South Street Seaport! On Saturday, September 17th, 2016, The Seaport District in Lower Manhattan will transform into an interactive and experiential farm environment for kids and families, and come alive with the sights, tastes, play, animals, farmers, growers, and harvest of a farm. A goal of the Festival is to raise awareness and funds for non-profit organizations working in NYC to fight childhood obesity, hunger and poor nutrition. The Festival community partner organizations include Grow to Learn NYC, and the incredible School Garden initiative.

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