NEWARK, N.J. — The New Jersey Department of Agriculture visited Newark Educators Community Charter School in Essex County to highlight the school’s use of a mini-grant that was presented by the department earlier this year to expand its rooftop garden. The visit was part of Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week that took place at various locations across New Jersey this week.
During the week, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is showcasing schools and farms that are growing and connecting local produce to schools to increase student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It’s wonderful to see Newark Educators Community Charter School use its mini-grant money in such an effective way,” New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher said. “School gardens are a great method of encouraging students to be involved in understanding what they eat and why it is important to make healthy eating decisions a part of their everyday life.”
The visit to the Newark school highlighted the use of the rooftop garden that was expanded to cover approximately 80 percent of the roof. Along with herbs like cilantro, basil, thyme, rosemary and mint, students have harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, strawberries, carrots, cabbages, radishes, lettuce, kale and fennel.
“While enhancing the building’s environment to support healthy eating, we encourage active living and educating each child,” said Manjari Kapoor, who is the school’s supervisor of curriculum and instruction. “This garden project is aimed at creating a culture of health by increasing food access and opportunities for physical activity in a school setting. We realized that this rooftop garden has become so much more than we ever anticipated.”
While the school’s garden was started two years ago, Kapoor says the added planting space has increased the number of items that can be grown as well as adding to the students’ culinary tastes.
“This expansion gave students an opportunity to plant a variety of herbs and vegetables,” Kapoor said. “This allowed students to have an opportunity to try different herbs and vegetables that they otherwise would not have access to or desire to eat.”
Kapoor also said that the garden has multiple uses for the school. One of those uses is with Next Generation Science Standards which supports the garden initiative in science classes as well as the health and nutrition classes. Students in science classes learn about how plants grow from seeds, the role of sunlight, water, soil and nutrients in plant growth.
The mini-grant donors for this year were Inserra Supermarkets, New Jersey Farm Bureau, F & S Produce Company and the Essex County Board of Agriculture.
Farm to School programs provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities to help students learn about local agriculture, how food grows and what it means to eat healthy with fresh fruits and vegetables.
To learn more, visit www.farmtoschool.nj.gov.
During the 2017-18 school year, the influence of the Farm to School Program led to 255 schools purchasing some local produce from their main distributor, 223 districts buying local produce directly from farms, 212 districts using a curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and 114 districts organizing field trips to farms.
— New Jersey Department of Agriculture