RCSD looks to grow a crop of gardens

“Hay is for horses, straw is for strawberries!”, Ellie Faugh sang out. It was a sunny early October day and the garden club at Rochester’s Enrico Fermi School 17 had a lot to do.

There were thickets of bindweed to be torn from around the tomato plants. Across the way in the early-stage food forest, a few girls mauled a dandelion root. Others took Faugh, the club advisor, up on one of her favorite recommendations: try a bite.

“If it looks like clover made out of hearts, we love it,” she said. “It’s sorrel; it tastes like lemon.”

A girl took a cautious bite. A second later, the suspicion melted from her face.

“OK, it legit tastes like lemon,” she admitted.

Faugh, a seventh-grade science teacher, began this fall as the Rochester City School District’s first citywide urban garden lead teacher. It is her job to grow more gardens across RCSD and develop teaching materials and curriculum to go along with them.

Her trusty deputy at School 17 is fourth-grader Andrea Bernard, one of the youngest garden club members and also its more or less self-appointed president. It’s written right there on the cover of her black composition book, in bold purple marker: “Andrea, Garden Club President.”

At home Andrea grows basil, strawberries, cucumber, spinach, peppers and oregano. What she loves about gardening, she said, is the sense of wonder and discovery that plants bring.

“Some of them could be edible; some of them could be purple,” she said. “But Ms. Faugh is a really good garden teacher, I can tell you that.”

Power in growing food

Ellie Faugh was born in Mexico and grew up in New Mexico, where her family operated a greenhouse. She has grown things all her life and, since becoming a science teacher, has incorporated the garden into her classroom and educational philosophy.

“When you eat that berry, you’re part of that loop ― the transfer of matter and energy through the ecosystem,” she said. “And there’s no better way to represent that than eating something out of the garden growing in front of you.”

The garden is a site for hands-on experimentation and observation ― seeing the different levels of chlorophyll, for example ― but also is what she called “emancipatory in nature,” in particular in the JOSANA neighborhood, which like much of Rochester, is lacking in fresh food options.

“Garden-based education in a food desert is to me a matter of human rights,” Faugh said. “When they get to plant the seed, see it grow, see it flower and then eat that tomato ― it’s not just a delicious, nutritious snack, but there’s power in the fact that they grew it.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *