Growing Through Gardening at Eden
A look out of our windows reveals abundant greenery consisting of fresh squash, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, lettuce, kale, spinach, string beans and herbs. Sounds like we are located on a farm, doesn’t it? These are views from our School, Employment and Day Centers and some adult residences throughout the greater Princeton area.
We have been able to produce healthy and hardy organic vegetable gardens by introducing the joy of gardening into our Eden programs. Yes, gardening can be a lot of work. There is dirt, it can be messy and sometimes the local deer reap the benefits before you can harvest. So why bother? Introducing gardening to our students and adult participants has been a great way for them to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, allow them to feel the rich soil in their hands and learn from a new experience.
Our gardening program has really taken off over the past year. Through a generous grant from PSE&G, installation of a new greenhouse outside the school began last fall. This spring, the greenhouse became fully operational including the addition of a heater. This will allow students to grow their own seeds and seedlings in late winter, in anticipation of springtime planting next year.
With the help of Eden mom Elaine Gischlar, much of our gardening materials and supplies have been donated through BoxTops for Education Program contributions, our main source of funding for our gardening program. There are approximately 35 BoxTop containers out in local stores, allowing the community to donate their BoxTop coupons back to Eden. Local businesses have also been instrumental in helping the gardening program at Eden thrive. Our top supporters include the Robbinsville Home Depot, Yardville Supply, East Windsor Walmart, W. Atlee Burpee & Company and the Golden Dawn Diner in Hamilton, NJ.
At the Eden School, students create new garden beds and grow their own vegetables from seeds. Through the creation of the Eden Gardening Club, the team has been able to teach nutrition, plant life cycles, and waste management, while providing opportunities for students as well as a new work experience. From early planting in the spring to harvesting in the summer months, every student in the school has been able to experience and be a part of the gardening process in some way.
By sowing seeds and tending to them daily through weeding and watering, our students and adult participants have been able to learn where some of their food comes from and then prepare their own meals. Once they experience the joy of harvesting, an eagerness to sample what they produced grows and they are taught how to prepare healthy snacks and lunches for themselves and other students in our school cafeteria. Recycling food scraps into the composter, to be returned to the earth, is a daily activity.
As the gardening program here at Eden continues to grow, so does the excitement and the possibilities. The gardening team has been hard at work developing plans to keep the greenhouse going twelve months of the year and have begun to develop their own irrigation system as well as a new netting system designed to protect the crops from animals in the area. Plans are also under way to use a new vacuum packaging system so excess fresh vegetables can be frozen and used for healthy meals all year long.
At our Old Trenton Road and Crossroads Employment and Day Centers, there are eight raised gardening beds. Staff members have had so much success working with our adult participants in their gardens that they recently began pickling and canning their produce. The gardens have also become so popular that staff and participants have experimented with creating entire meals just from what they have harvested out of the garden.
Eden looks forward to expanding its gardening programs as participants and staff continue to enjoy and learn from the experience.