Thursday, July 18, 2024

Cambridgeport School students show their dirtied hands from planting colorful chard, peppers, cabbages and rosemary into a 7-foot growing frame for the school’s display on living edible walls at the CitySprouts School Garden Celebration, to be held Saturday at the Tobin School. (Photo: Kristen Emack)

The vertical-frame, mobile garden of chard, peppers and rosemary was completed this week with the help of Boston landscape specialist Jan Goodman of Cityscapes.

One of Cambridgeport School’s greatest assets is how snugly it fits in its Area IV neighborhood, surrounded so closely by the homes of many of its 300 students. But last spring, when the school’s garden committee sought space on the grounds to grow vegetables, that closeness presented a monumental challenge.

Spots large enough had too much building shade, spots filled with light were too close to play equipment. A few parents who supported Walk/Ride initiatives protested any bike racks being moved, and teachers couldn’t spare even one sunny parking space, given the extreme parking problems they already faced. The only choice seemed to be up, but not on the roof. On the walls.

As a result, Cambridgeport School students and garden committee members Saturday will display everything they’ve researched so far about “edible walls” — the newest trend in urban farming — at the CitySprouts School Garden Celebration, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Tobin School, 197 Vassal Lane.

Open to the public, the event showcases the tremendous community effort and enthusiasm behind each public school garden in Cambridge. This year the celebration features free cider, cider making and local tomato salad; foods for sale such as soup, homemade bread, garden salsa, baked goods, grilled hot dogs and burgers; craft activities (some free and some for sale) such as pumpkin decorating, plant potting, sun-catcher making, ribbon wishing and herb sachets; and informative displays about each garden and various school compost programs. Admission is free, and proceeds from all items sold benefit the school gardens.

Founded 10 years ago by executive director and Cambridge parent Jane S. Hirschi, CitySprouts helps local schools create gardens in their schoolyards, ensuring that hands-on learning, environmental stewardship and the experience of growing and eating food becomes part of public education for all children. In partnership with Cambridge Public Schools, CitySprouts has also developed garden-based lessons in math, science, history and social studies that teachers can use in their classrooms. Sixth-graders, for instance, learn about sexual and asexual plant reproduction by examining strawberry plants, and younger students learn math by charting leaf growth to determine the necessary amount of leaves to product fruit. Some schools have even planted gardens with medieval and colonial themes.

Last year CitySprouts began serving all 12 K–8 schools in the district, making Cambridge arguably the first city in the nation where every public elementary school has a garden. New this year is CitySprouts Starts, designed to replicate the successful Cambridge model in other urban schools. Through this initiative, CitySprouts’ consulting team offers schools a range of services to either start or strengthen a school garden program.

Community collaborates

Helen Steinman, Cambridgeport School 5th grader, plants cabbages and peppers into one panel of a 7-foot vertical frame provided by Boston Cityscapes. (Photo: Kristen Emack)

The fact that Cambridgeport — the last Cambridge school invited to join the program — could be the first in the Boston area to grow food on its walls and fences is a testament to CitySprouts’ collaborative and adaptive model.

Professional landscapers, university students and neighborhood activists join parents to design and build CitySprouts gardens, while students, student interns and community volunteers help maintain them. The volunteer work varies depending on what’s needed.

At Cambridgeport, for instance, employees of nearby Sonos recently brought electric drills and installed a rain gutter on the school’s garden shed.

Some expertise comes from even farther afield: This week Boston landscape specialist Jan Goodman of Cityscapes spent three hours showing students how to plant chard, peppers and rosemary in a vertical frame manufactured by Green Living Technologies in New York. Afterward, to generate excitement, she loaned the frame to the school for a week so it could be used in a display at Saturday’s school garden event.

The excitement at Cambridgeport continues to grow. The school’s garden program is a finalist for a grant from the Harvest Co-op Markets Community Fund. New garden committee member chef Jason Bond of Bondir restaurant contributed a source for regionally significant heirloom vegetable seeds, such as Boston marrow squash, speckled trout lettuce and the Gilfeather turnip.

And most recently, Principal Katie Charner-Laird asked a nearby business owner if he’ll allow one of Cambridgeport’s teachers to use a parking space in his company’s lot during school hours.

If all goes well, perhaps by this spring a sunny parking space in the teachers’ lot will be transformed into a raised bed filled with strawberries and heirloom vegetables.

Monica Velgos is a parent at Cambridgeport School, a member of its garden committee and a contributing editor to Food Arts magazine.