A Tree Grows in Chinatown – Student Group Spotlight: The Quincy Garden Project

By Lisa D’Agrosa, RD

Students at the Quincy School water their seedlings.

The Quincy Garden Project was started by Agriculture, Food and Environment (AFE) students at Friedman in 2008.  The group works with the Josiah Quincy Elementary School, located down the street from Friedman in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, to teach six garden-based education lessons a year to third graders.  As the spring temperatures started to roll into Boston, I took the chance to speak with Laura Held, second-year AFE student and the coordinator of the project, before garden season is officially in full swing.

What prompted Friedman students to start the Quincy Garden Project?

The Quincy School already had a small rooftop garden started by third grade teacher Lai Lai Sheung.  There was work going on at the school to bring nature and farming education to the urban-based kids and then the AFE students said, let’s see if we can do a little bit more.  They created garden-based lessons to conform to the Massachusetts state life-science standards.

We work with third grade classrooms, five classes total, with 18-25 students per class. My job as coordinator is to recruit graduate students to teach the lessons.  There are three lessons in the fall and three in the spring.  The lesson plans can be revised based on input, but the lessons at this point are pretty perfected.

How many seeds are in this tomato?

What topics are covered in the education lessons with the third graders?
The lessons are all based around food and the environment and agricultural concepts, which really fits in with the AFE curriculum, but on a third grade level.  The first lesson, in the spring, focuses on seeds.  We open a cherry tomato, and see how many seeds are there.  We talk about how many plants can come from that one cherry tomato. And then discuss why cherry tomatoes aren’t taking over the earth.  Basically, all the possible reasons a seed may or may not turn into a plant. The kids take care of pea starter plants for a couple of weeks. Some other lessons include decomposition, where the kids play with worms and dirt; parts of the plant; and the food web.  The sixth and final lesson is a garden celebration.  We go onto the roof and the plants go in the roof top garden.  The kids write haikus about the garden. It’s really fun.

How else is the Quincy Garden-based Education project involved at the school?

We also work with an after-school program called Food Scouts. Within the elementary school the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Inc., which does all sorts of community work in Chinatown, runs an afterschool program called Red Oak.  There are standard afterschool lessons for kids.  A Tufts student will go to do the more garden-based education work.  There are three to four lessons in the afterschool program.  We bring the afterschool kids over to the garden at Jaharis, for a more hands-on gardening lesson. Each kid gets a different starter plant and then learns how to plant it in the ground properly.  It is really fun for the kids.

We also teamed up with the Boston Tree Party, an organization created by Lisa Gros, a Tufts University alumnus.  She created this idea as an activist-artist-agricultural project; she got organizations in the Boston area to plant apple trees in pairs.  There is one pair at Tufts Medford, and one pair through Friedman.  The apple trees only need to be within ½ a mile to cross-pollinate so one is at the Quincy school and one is at Jaharis.

Trisha Chakrabarti helps the kids with their soil.

Does the Friedman group maintain the Quincy school garden?

It’s maintained by Lai Lai Sheung and her third grade class.  It’s a really small garden. It’s more of a taster garden.  We only work directly in the garden during the final lesson.

How can Friedman students get involved with the Quincy Garden project?

We already have volunteers for the spring lessons.  People should be on the lookout for ways to be involved next year, if this is something they are interested in.  Micah Risk (Micah.Risk@Tufts.edu) and Katrina Brink (Katrina.Brink@Tufts.edu) are two first year students who will be involved with the project next year.  We will be hosting a documentary movie screening about the Boston Tree Party at our campus on Tuesday April 3, from 6:00-7:30 pm in Sackler room 216A.  Refreshments will be served and there will be a discussion after the screening.

Students helping their seedlings grow.

What has been the greatest benefit of being part of the Quincy Garden project?

For me I think that there are a couple of things. On a personal level, I really enjoy this type of work.  I really like working with kids and really like garden-based education, especially in an urban setting opening up the kids’ eyes to what our food system is like.  Even on a beginner level, like talking about seeds inside a vegetable.  A lot of adults have never thought about these basic concepts before.  It’s fun to open the kid’s eyes and see the looks on their faces. I also think it’s really important for Friedman to be involved in the community.  The more Friedman is involved, the better.  The Quincy school is right around the corner and they don’t have a lot of resources to get their students out in the agricultural setting.  The Quincy Garden Project can bring that setting to them.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

*Photos by Micah Risk

Lisa D’Agrosa is a first-year Nutrition Communications student and a Registered Dietitian.  She enjoys yoga, baking and attempting to knit. She hopes to help promote positive eating habits in America.  Read more @ http://www.simmerdownnutrition.com

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