With a new stretch of cold weather the farm is bundling up and slowing down for the winter. Most of our beds are no longer producing. We still have bunches of carrots and turnips stored in the ground where they grew and the last of the pak choi and lettuce living under the low plastic row tunnels. But as the winter calm settles in we have been reflecting on what a year we had at the Learning Garden.
We saw a lot of new things in the garden this year, including me, but the real star of the show this year was our new flock of chickens! They attracted a ton of attention. This past year’s chickens have settled into their new life in Brooklyn, but we will certainly be getting a new flock of baby chicks next spring. We managed to raise a vast variety of vegetables this summer, even a couple wonderful surprises like the luffa vines that just grew and grew and grew, and some of our old favorites like bitter gourds and tons of green beans.
Our new expansion also was a massive success. It was so helpful to have the extra space to hold our classes in. It let us grow so much food that even after all the great meals with made with the kids, we still were able to donate over 405 lbs of vegetables to a soup kitchen in East Harlem. Later in the fall, we cleared some space to make a spacious area so we could move our outdoor kitchen right into the garden. We were sauteing veggies while surrounded by fresh green beans and peppers!
We were so lucky to receive such strong support from a huge group of people. From Goldman Sach’s coming out with their sleeves rolled up to help build our new extension to Bloomberg’s fantastic mentoring of classes over the summer. Mihyun and Yoshi were amazing chefs who were so helpful teaching traditional rice recipes as the students were working in the rice paddies. And Momofuku were a blast helping kids make fresh pasta from scratch to eat with a pesto mixed from the garden! It was a tasty year to be working and eating in the Garden!
Our rice did very well this year. We built a whole second paddy and it was great. It really became a focus around which many of the students naturally gathered. The gradually changing colors were magnetic in their attraction over the last half of the summer. And every age group got involved, from the kindergarteners (and below) discovering how the leaves can feel scratchy when brushed in one direction while soft in the other, to highschoolers (and up) learning about how we created micro-ecosystems by involving compost, fish, lily pads, snails, and rice to make a situation in which everything is grew stronger together.
I could hardly be a farmer without complaining a little about the weather. At times we struggled with an extremely dry summer after a mild winter. We even lost our irrigation system in August as a water main broke under the East River. In addition, the season was brought to a finish a little early by Hurricane Sandy. But in spite of these challenges, we still had a strong year.
And most of the strength of this season came from all the fantastic kids that came and visited! We met more great groups then we can count. From our very first school, P.S. 279, and their love of the big floppy hat, to SNAP this summer and their wonderful educators, all the way through P.S. 303 in Queens joining us for the Big Apple Crunch, we all had an amazing time with everyone. From all of us at Randall’s Island and the Learning Garden: