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North Salem Students Go Organic

“Is this our lettuce?” a student asked while waiting on line in the cafeteria. The answer is a resounding yes! This year for the second time, the North Salem High School has had its own organic garden. Called the Courtyard Garden because it is surrounded by buildings, it is well sequestered from the town’s hungry deer population. On the down side, trucks cannot reach the area, so everything has to be carried in by hand or transported in a wheelbarrow.

The project’s coordinator, AP Physics teacher Scott Lenhart, grew up on a farm so he appreciates the value of agriculture first-hand. He has been teaching at the high school for 26 years and wanted to have a school farm from the beginning. He said that it couldn't have happened without the enthusiastic support of Assistant Principal George Bovino and staff member, Joan Gabel-Myers.

It was Gabel-Myers who contacted local businesses, asking for donations. Among the contributors were Clearwater Excavating, Lakeland Lumber and Outhouse Orchards.

"North Salem is a very unusual place since there's very little retail" Gabel-Myers explained. “And what there is is run by local people. We all see each other and know each other. People are very generous."

Members of the teaching staff contributed plants and seeds and local residents also chipped in. The kids, however, donated the sweat and labor. About 60 students are currently involved in the garden in one way or another.

Right now the garden is growing potatoes, peas, leeks, six varieties of lettuce, herbs, tomatoes and flowers.

“We try to steer the kids into growing things that can be harvested before the end of the school year,” said Lenhart. “Everybody wants to grow tomatoes, but they’re not really ready until summertime.”

Last year almost everything that came out of the school garden was served in the cafeteria. In fact, during morning announcements the loud speaker might tell everyone, “The lettuce today is from our garden.”

This year some of the produce will be donated to local food pantries.

According to Lenhart, "there's a huge disconnect between kids in America and nature.” Sometimes “they don’t understand where food comes from. They think it comes from Hannaford’s.”

Agriculture is an integral part of North Salem’s history, he adds. “We have vineyards, orchards, equestrian farms, cattle and sheep. Kids should get to know the values of the community from which they come.”

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