Galen Kemp’s 2nd grade class at Oak Grove School in Brattleboro, VT recently harvested a bumper crop of pumpkins and butternut squash. This was a great victory for the school garden. Since the garden’s beginnings over 10 years ago, various classrooms have attempted to grow pumpkins and winter squash, and the results have been disappointing. Very small and very few pumpkins growing in the fall would repeatedly disappear from the garden just before classes were ready to harvest them.
This year, the plants were heavy with fruit and no one interfered with the harvest. One of the reasons for a successful squash harvest this year was that these plants were started inside by Erek Tuma’s 4th grade class last spring utilizing their classroom grow cart with seeds donated by the Vermont Community Garden Network. The seedlings were planted in early June by Ms. Kemp’s 2nd graders with support from Food Connects summer garden intern Celia Feal-Staub and tended all summer by Celia and volunteer Oak Grove families.
The fall harvest began with a lesson in the classroom to teach students how to determine when a pumpkin is ready for harvesting. They learned to assess the coloring, the hardness of the rind, and the sound when knocking on the outside of the pumpkin to make sure it was ready to pick. They learned to leave a 3-4 inch stem on each pumpkin to allow the fruit to keep longer, and they learned about curing them in the sun for about a week before storing them in a cool, dry place until they are ready to be used.
Then, students proceeded to the garden for the harvest. The class was divided into 2 groups of approximately 10 students. Each group took time walking around the garden, identifying a variety of garden plants, locating the pumpkins and squash, counting the total before harvesting, and using their math and problem solving skills to determine a fair process so that each group would harvest a similar number and each child could be part of the harvest. Then came the big moment—the harvest! With adult help, stems were cut and children happily carried pumpkins back into the school and placed them in a sunny window to cure.
The pumpkins and squash are currently in cold storage at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and they will be turned into a mashed squash side dish for Oak Grove’s harvest dinner later this month. The squash cooking lesson will be led by the Co-op’s dynamic nutrition educator, Lizi Rosenberg. This is Farm to School at it’s best, kids involved in hands-on learning in the garden and in the classroom, sharing the fruits of their labor with the larger community!