Planting A Future

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


Imagine planting an idea. Dig deep, lay the foundation, and watch as it takes form. With enough practice, patience, and knowledge, that single idea can grow over a lifetime into a movement. It can change a person’s way of living.

That is the goal behind the annual fundraiser, “A Moveable Feast,” held at Dodds & Eder Landscape Design Showroom in Sag Harbor. The benefit raises money for local school gardens, held by Slow Food East End with the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation in partnership with Edible School Gardens Group.

“Gardens are a gateway to learning, discovery, health, and much more. They increase self-esteem, concentration, and observation skills. Children develop more of a sense of ownership and learn to foster more relationships with family and the community,” said Justine Oudeans, the science coordinator at East Quogue Elementary School.

The Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation was initiated by Myron and Susan Levine after losing their son, Joshua, to a tragic farming accident. Together with SFEE, they are dedicated to furthering education on healthy eating and sustainable environmental practices.

In the 2017-2018 year, Oudeans initiated the Earth Rangers program, a kids’ conservation organization, at the school, and is furthering her education through the Cornell Cooperative Extension program. “All schools should implement a garden program, because it gets children outside learning and off of their screens. Gardening increases responsibility and also fosters imaginative play and creativity. And most of all, it’s fun, and every kid loves to get digging in the dirt,” she added.

Roxanne Zimmer, a third-year master farmer, collaborates with students in pre-K through high school to launch and sustain these gardens. “Thanks to the financial support of Slow Food East End and the Joshua Levine Foundation, the 30-plus schools participating in the Edible School Garden Program receive mini-grants, visiting chefs, as well as the assistance of a master farmer,” she noted of the “outdoor blackboard” for learning. By placing the seeds in children’s hands, it allows youth to create a direct connection to the foods they consume, watching them root, sprout, and grow, Zimmer noted.

As a means to increase participation, schools are encouraging student recipe contests, incorporating the produce directly in their cafeterias and even piloting a multi-week “learn how to be a chef” curriculum. Slow Food is a non-profit and the East End chapter encompasses the North and South forks. These children, their teachers, chefs, and master farmers are all part of a network of over 100,000 members across 150 countries, and growing. Each member aims for good, clean, and fair food for all.

“By growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs in the school garden, all students learn how to source some of their own nutritious and delicious food. This is a critical lesson for our students who experience food insecurity, especially those receiving free or reduced meals. The seeds, like the children themselves, are full of promise,” Zimmer concluded.

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