April 22, 2015

Community Park School Garden Marks Earth Day Anniversary

Community Park School (CP) will celebrate 10 years of its school garden on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Each student will make one “recycled” plastic flower from yogurt cups that have been saved by Principal Dineen Gruchacz and

others, decorate it with colorful cast off fabric and tissue paper, and hang all the flowers on the fence surrounding the school’s Edible Garden.

At 2 p.m, Mayor Liz Lempert, along with representatives of the Princeton Environmental Commission, Sustainable Princeton, and Princeton School Gardens Cooperative will join students and teachers in viewing the decorated garden, and in singing an environmental song led by CP Science Teacher John Emmons, one of the garden’s steadfast supporters during his seven years at the school, teaching classes in the garden and leading efforts to add an innovative Prairie Garden, Light and Shadow Gardens, and a Community Forest.

Teachers Elizabeth Czelusniak and Adam Blejwas, along with Karla Cook, whose daughters attended CP as elementary school students, remember the early days of the garden as ones that required them to involve as much of the school and larger community as possible.

Ms. Czelusniak found time in her schedule to take every class out at least once. Mr. Blejwas, the school’s Spanish teacher, grew Latin vegetables such as tomatillos with students, and joined them in making salsa from the garden’s harvest.

Ms. Cook, a longtime food journalist, was inspired to lead efforts for school gardens as an academic tool to connect children to the food on their plates, to each other and to the world around them. Other Community Park parents joined teachers and community members, and with input from people like Dorothy Mullen, longtime Riverside School Garden Educator, constructed the first raised beds and fence for the “Edible Garden.”

Ms. Cook’s work at Community Park inspired her to co-found the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative (PSGC), a unique, community-scale non-profit group, with Ms. Mullen, Fran McManus and Diane Landis Hackett. The PSGC, which fosters garden- and food-based education in the classroom, the cafeteria and the community, first constructed and filled edible gardens at all of the public schools in town, and still assists in fund-raising for garden educators and for garden maintenance.

In addition to funding from PSGC, the CP garden is supported by the school district and the school’s PTO. The funding goes for supplies and to pay an award-winning garden educator Priscilla Hayes, who has been leading gardening and sustainability efforts since the 1990s, when she originated programs in the Robbinsville Township schools as part of her Recycling and Clean Communities work.

In recent years at Community Park, parent Stephanie Chorney, has helped coordinate efforts in the school gardens and co-chairs the PTO’s Go Green Committee with Sandy Moskovitz. Community Park also has a Food and Flavor Health Residency with Fran McManus and coordinated by another parent, Lee Yonish. This program highlights tastings of some fruits and vegetables grown in the school garden.