On a cool fall day, Rich Parisio gives a lecture to a group of kindergartners amid the dried cornstalks of Duzine Elementary School’s garden. “Squash and corn and beans,” Parisio says, answering his own question posed to the kids. “Good, you know the ‘Three Sisters.’ I’m not one of the Three Sisters -- my name is Rich.”
Parisio, a field trip educator from Mohonk Preserve, goes on to explain the finer points of the Native American Lenape Tribe’s agricultural practice to the kids. The Lenape, along with the Esopus Tribe, once lived in the area.
Nearby, two boys dig into the earth to pull weeds and create compost to re-fertilize the soon-to-be dormant fields -- that is until one of the boys finds something unexpected.
“Ah, wormy! Ew!” the boy shrieks as he finds the crawler in the soil. The two boys giggle. “There was a wormy on my finger.”
Duzine’s Scarecrow Festival last week marked a successful end to a farming season started in January by local activists Jim O’Dowd and Susan Mitchell. They were among a group of people in New Paltz who wanted to see kids learn about food for themselves -- by managing their own fields.
Now, just shy of a year later, youngsters at Duzine have literally helped reap the rewards of that effort.
“This garden is called ‘the green classroom,’” explains Rebecca Burdett, a kindergarten teacher at the school. “This is Duzine’s first all-school activity in the garden.”
Throughout the last school year, the teachers were able to integrate the garden into their lessons -- taking the kids outside for an almost-daily field trip experience.
“It’s really been an opportunity for the teachers to teach something inside and then learn about it outside,” Burdett added.
During the most active growing months of summer vacation, small groups of parents and teachers tended the plot to make sure kids would have a healthy garden when they returned. Local farms, including Phillies Bridge Farm and Brook Farm, donated their time and staff members to start and keep the gardens running as well.
And the garden is making some teachers rethink what they thought they knew about kids and vegetables.
“What I’m finding is that when kids grow the food, they eat it,” Burdett said. Kids were wolfing down green leafy veggies and natural treats from the garden. “They were doing it because it was just so fresh.”
Each classroom made their own scarecrow and wrote short stories to explain who those pumpkin-headed crow fighters were. Stories ranged from the silly to serious -- some scarecrows came from outer space, others were bewitched and abandoned by their families before Duzine’s school children adopted them.
The Scarecrow Festival gave kids from different grades or classes, and their parents, a chance to see what their peers had come up with.
But it also provided a unique opportunity for the music teacher, librarian and art teacher to get outside and teach lessons in the grass.
School cafeteria workers also got into the action by taking all the veggies grown in the garden and turning it into a soup for the kids. And to pass the time while they ate the homegrown soup, the librarian regaled them with Marcia Brown’s “Stone Soup.”
That tale recounts a group of wise soldiers who inspire generosity out of a reluctant village by asking for more vegetables for their stone and water soup.