HOPE VALLEY— Teacher Denise Foggo’s fourth grade class really digs gardening. Her students plant and raise vegetables like beans, peppers and cucumbers, which they donate to the First Baptist Church for distribution to local food shelters.
“It’s right from cleaning the beds, tilling the soil, everything from planting to watering. The kids like coming out and they know they’re doing a service for the community,” said Foggo.
She started the Kids Grow! at Hope Valley Elementary School in 2001with 12 raised beds and added seven more in 2002, the same year she won the Rhode Island “Outstanding Conservation Teacher” award.
Foggo’s students have become industrious gardeners and they each have a task they like best.
“My favorite thing is watering because it’s easier to do – you can go to a plant and to the next plant and make progress,” said Andrew, a fourth grader.
“I like to weed because it makes the plants grow bigger and make sure they bloom so that we can give the food to the church. The weeds would take up the water and wouldn’t let the plants grow,” said Mason, fourth grade gardener.
“My favorite thing to do is to plant because it’s very fun to do, it’s more easy than watering. You take the plant, take stuff off the bottom, and put it in, and make a little pocket around it,” said Hannah, a fourth grader.
Foggo said the garden continues to produce all summer long thanks to families who sign up on a schedule to take care of it.
“I have people who have gardened in the summer in the past and people who have never gardened. It could be a community family, could be a family who has been at Hope Valley and has gone on to the middle school who has come back to help, and it could be families from preschool all the way up who are in this school,” she said.
Reverend Shyral Wallis of the First Baptist Church, which is next door to the school, receives the garden produce and distributes it to the needy and elderly in the community. Foggo said that all of the produce is carefully weighed and documented along with the hours worked by the gardeners.
“She keeps her data, we keep our data, how many minutes they’re out working, so we know how many pounds, how many minutes people stay, and who’s doing it, it’s all very organized,” said Foggo.
In 2012, the garden yielded 200 pounds of vegetables, mostly tomatoes and peppers and lesser amounts of eggplant, cucumbers, and beans. Yields vary by year, depending on conditions: 150 pounds in 2011, 250 pounds in 2010, and 400 pounds in 2099. From 2002 to 2008, the garden yielded an average of 295 pounds per year.
To raise money for expenses, Foggo has an annual plant sale that coincides with a book fair just before Mother’s Day.
“We go in our own gardens and dig up perennials that have spread and make up baskets of them. This year we had 76 of them and we sell them so that we can buy plants,” she said.
The seeds come from University of Rhode island, she added.
In 2009 the Nichols Foundation of the First Baptist Church donated a shed, which was helpful because all of the tools could be stored right next to the garden.
Foggo said that there are some needs this year, too.
Her wish list includes: more watering cans; new wood, hardware, and soil to replace five raised beds in the fall; and, a new turnstile compost bin.
“If it wasn’t for the fourth graders that are doing this, if it wasn’t for the school supporting it, and if it wasn’t for the community supporting it, it definitely wouldn’t work. I truly thank the church because she’s in the community and she knows what happening,” Foggo said.
In addition, she said the project cultivates her students’ understanding of the value of community service.
“It feels good to help the community with gardening because you know you’re giving it to people who need the stuff, people who don’t really have food, and we can give them that for free and it can go to a food pantry,” said Andrew.
“I like that we can all come together so that it’s not just one person doing it. We can help each other do it and make more progress if we have a lot of people doing it,” he added.