Gardening project reconnects SSA students to their roots
Shady Side Academy teacher Tim McGuigan is growing goodness at the middle school campus along Squaw Run Road East in Fox Chapel.
He spearheaded a project last year to begin a student-run “farm” to improve nutrition, provide hands-on learning and connect students with the earth.
“The idea is not only to get kids in the yard but for them to get to see that everything is a cycle, everything we eat comes from a seed,” McGuigan said.
Their hard work is prospering already — and not just in the kale, radishes and strawberries that grew last summer.
The school won a $2,000 School Garden Grant through the Whole Kids Foundation to expand and improve the site.
Grant money will be used to install gutters on two sheds that border the garden in order for McGuigan and his farmers to collect rainwater for use on the crops.
“Right now, we use the school's water, which is transported through hundreds of feet of hoses,” he said. “This will bring in the whole sustainability aspect.”
A portion of the money also will be used to add cold frames to the garden, which will help nurture the plants throughout the winter.
Giri Viswanathan, 11, said he really is digging the garden and its environmental lessons.
“At home, my mom loves to garden, and I help her,” he said. “It's fun to nurture a plant and know that you helped something grow.
“And Mr. McGuigan says that at the end of the year, we'll get to make green smoothies from the stuff that we raise.”
Inside the fenced area, students already have planted kale, peas, garlic, broccoli and spinach. The growing year began in February, when students helped design the plots and order seeds.
Students who choose gardening for their athletic/activity period can spend each afternoon seeding, planting, weeding, watering and waiting for their plants to grow.
Volunteers lend a hand during summer to keep the garden from growing out of control.
“I want them to see where their food comes from,” said McGuigan, who prior to teaching worked on organic farms in Hawaii studying permaculture and biodynamics.
“Whether they come from the inner city or suburbs, young people today are increasingly interconnected electronically but increasingly disconnected from their environment and food sources,” he said.
“I want them to know that when they buy something from the grocery store, it is the end result.”
The space, much to McGuigan's delight, has served as an outdoor classroom for lots of students, not only the ones getting their hands dirty.
“My Latin class comes out here just to be outside,” said Walter Navid, 13.
Other teachers have incorporated lessons on sustainability, healthy eating and community awareness into their curriculum.
Eighth-grade history students are planting a Victory garden, like those that were planted to help the food supply during World War I and World War II. Sixth-grade science students planted tulips and dissected the flowers to learn about their anatomy. Social-studies classes made homemade borscht from garden beets as part of a world-cultures lesson.
“The garden is a wonderful educational tool for our students and teachers, and in just one short year, we've found lots of exciting ways to integrate it into our curriculum,” said Amy Nixon, middle school head.
McGuigan said the garden serves as a classroom, lab and salad bar for the school. Many of the veggies are used in the school cafeteria. Some are sold at the Fox Chapel Farm Market hosted each summer at the senior school.
“We need to reconnect the iPad generation to roots, earthworms and pollinators,” he said. “This is the challenge we face every day, and our garden is one way we hope to shape this future generation and reconnect them to their world.”
Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or firstname.lastname@example.org.