Learning From The Ground Up

This article first appeared in The Independent Newspaper. Read more about #EverythingEastEnd here


Imagine a school where students aid in the harvesting and cooking of the very food that they, and the faculty, eat. A place where within 12 minutes, the entire lunch kitchen and dining room are cleaned. This is the food philosophy of the Hayground School in Bridgehampton.

Jon Snow, co-founder, noted, “A lot of our values are manifested in the commitment to cooking our own meals and growing our own food.” Which makes Hayground a unique place for kids to grow.

Chef Colin Ambrose of Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor has been a part of the Luncheon Series at the school for five years — a series where the entire school is served a meal created by the kids and with a local chef.

“Kids at this school are nurtured by people that are outstanding. And that’s why it’s so easy for me to say yes to participating,” Ambrose said, recalling a time when he created a chicken Bolognese with the students. “Watching them go through the process of talking about it, to actually doing it, eating it — that’s really empowering for me,” he said.

“Food is a necessary component of their day-to-day lives and the Hayground School is feeding them in a unique way,” added Ambrose.

Hayground is an independent alternative school and camp honoring innovation and diversity, where students range from three to 13 years old. It’s a place that Snow helped create. After serving as director of the camp for 24 years, Snow retired from the camp he’s built and loved — but he will continue on at the school half-time as citizen scientist and botanist in residence.

“We’re pretty tricked out compared to our roots,” Snow said. He recalled the very beginning, when Hayground rented space from the Methodist Church in Bridgehampton before there was a campus. Within a year, the school was ready. For the camp, the team spent two summers renting space at Water Mill Community Club. Today, it has grown to a place of soaring possibilities, with a flying trapeze, state-of-the-art wood shop, 56,000-gallon swimming pool, and more.

With 75 to 80 percent of the student body receiving tuition assistance, the camp covers 60 percent of the school’s budget, and many of the parents enrolling their kids in the camp don’t even realize the greater good they are doing for others in need. “The children and the families are just as important as the staff,” said Snow.

“Snow brings a world of knowledge. I bet you that guy reads a book every week. He brings a tremendous variety of skills,” Ambrose added.

The wealth of knowledge and experience in the kitchen is in the capable hands of Arjun Achuthan and Scott O’Neill, who base their cooking on what’s in the garden.

“I have tremendous respect for the values that Scott and Arjun have in that kitchen,” Snow said. “They snatched bacteria out of the air to make their own yeast, and they’ve kept it for five years now. Her name in Juanita,” he said with a smile.

“A lot of it is about being connected in a sensory way to things that you can relate and have a context for. When kids are in the garden, they’re experimenting all the time. They are acting and getting ideas from primary sources. Going out and trying to grow something — and when it dies, that’s an outcome. When it’s so delicious, and everybody at the table questions who grew this lettuce, that’s an outcome. Those are real experiential goals for us at Hayground.”

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