According to a timeless philosophy, it has been stated that, “if you build it, they will come.” In the case of Peekskill Middle School, “it” was a High Tunnel, which was installed in the school’s garden thanks to the High Tunnels in Schools Grant. The grant was awarded to Peekskill Middle School from Cornell in 2011 and has since helped to maximize and extend the school's gardening season.
Last week, the “they” factor came into play when the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Krysta Harden came to visit the school garden and speak to the students about farming.
The day began with an introduction where Harden shared tales about her youth growing up on her father’s peanut farm in Georgia. She let the children know that gardening is not always easy and that sometimes farmers learn just as much from their growing success as they do from their failures. Harden also explained some of the intricacies associated with the business of farming and encouraged the students to consider careers in the field.
“After you have experienced farming firsthand, you look at your food differently for the rest of your life,” Harden said.
Harden’s visit soon moved from the classroom to the garden where students proudly showed off their crops. Though one would expect the garden’s raised beds to be bare at this time of year, despite the December date, arugula, pak choi, lettuce and carrots were only some of the produce flourishing in the school’s garden.
“We always wanted to have a garden in the school,” said Gordon Hubbard, Peekskill’s science department chairmen who is currently out on sabbatical, but returned to the school for Harden’s visit.
Hubbard worked with the middle school to receive various garden grants and said that Harden’s visit is “a validation to the work the school has done and the success of the gardening program.”
Students from Peekskill High School were also on hand at the middle school for Harden’s visit. Many of the high school students in attendance are involved in various agricultural projects at the middle and high school, and said they hope to replicate a similar garden, including the High Tunnel set-up, at the high school in the near future.
“I think it’s amazing to see how far the garden has gone,” said Kylea Mulligan, a senior at Peekskill High School. “Peekskill has been doing some great things recently. Normally our schools are known for sports, but it’s nice for us to be getting recognized for this too. It’d be great to get one of these tunnels at the high school.”
After the garden tour, Harden and students returned to a classroom where the children gave brief presentations on farming legislation which they have been studying. The presentations were followed by a question and answer session and a meet and greet.
Before Harden left, students gifted the Deputy Secretary with a variety of infused vinegars they had made with herbs from their garden and bottled themselves, and also gave Harden a Peekskill Middle School sweatshirt to remember them by.
“I had a wonderful visit,” Harden said. “The students were just so enthusiastic and excited. It was invigorating. It lets me know that we have a bright future because these are our future leaders. They are determined, they are bright and they are caring. Our country is in good hands.”
The Peekskill Middle School garden will continue to be improved upon thanks to the school’s Agriculture in the Classroom program, as well as with the help of grants from companies such as Entergy, Wheelabrator Technologies and Lowes.
“Today has been a really exciting day for us,” said John Cooley, a retired PKMS teacher who worked closely with the garden and returned for the event. “This acknowledges all of the hard work we’ve done over the past five years at the middle school. The kids are the driving force and this was a great learning experience for them.”