By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – The Board of Education received a special treat as members participated in creating their own pizza garden and listened to a presentation from a Girl Scout going for her Gold Award during its board meeting on April 12.
“I’ve been working on my Girl Scout Gold Award through the Cranbury School for the last two and a half years,” said Lillian “Lilly” Santoro, a senior at Princeton High School and a Juliette Girl Scout. “I’ve been working with the students to get gardening into their classrooms.”
Her Gold Award is called Great Growing Gardens. She said that she had originally wanted to do the project for her Silver Award when she was in junior high school, but was advised that it was a big project that would take many years complete.
“So I listened, and as soon as I entered high school and I could start my Gold Award. I needed to start planning,” she said, adding she started designing and talking with Principal Dr. Susan Genco about what they could do.
Ms. Santoro got approval for the project from Girl Scout council midway through her sophomore year.
She said that she grew loving the outdoors and that it’s an amazing place.
“I wanted to get the kids outside,” she said. “I really wanted them to see how amazing the world around them is. The kids aren’t even aware of it. I wanted to show them that they can grow something amazing with their own hands. I also wanted to show them that healthy eating can be fun, she added.
Ms. Santoro said that she wanted to show the kids that healthy eating can be better when you grow it yourself because it has more of the nutrients.
“It’s better for you when it’s not canned, when it’s not frozen, when it’s fresh,” she said.
After receiving approval for the project, Ms. Santoro started budgeting. She had saved $1,700 from previous years of Girl Scout cookie sales, and another $400 in donations, which paid for the project.
“I have bought all the supplies and come each week at least if twice a week if not more to set up for a lesson usually on a Monday or Tuesday and then usually on a Wednesday to a different class every week,” she said.
The project started with Ms. Santoro building three garden beds out of treated cedar made at Mr. Kaiser’s workshop that were installed at the Cranbury School next to courtyard next the kindergarten classrooms.
“While I was building the first bed inside, the little kids (kindergartners) started some pumpkins inside because in the fall they do a pumpkin unit in their classrooms,” she said. She wanted to see if she could get the kids to plant the pumpkins that the rising class would then use.
“They planted them inside and they were then transplanted outside when the bed was installed,” she said, adding that was last year and they are about to do it again this year.
But the first-year the harvest wasn’t so great and produced only one gourd.
“We improved on the garden, adding a soaker hose and more nutrient rich soil,” she said. “The second year, the plants were growing great, however, when the roof work was done, materials were dropped onto the garden bed, damaging plants and killing the garden. We ultimately got four pumpkins.”
She said they are about to start it for third year and hopefully it will be better than the past two.
“Besides the pumpkin patch, I also built two vegetable beds,” she said.
The students started with seven varieties of lettuce and some varieties of spinach through the Learning Through Gardening Grant from the New Jersey Agriculture Society, which she and school counselor Joann Charwin started indoors.
“Once they were ready to go outdoors, we got some fifth-graders who were ahead in their special area classes and we had the them help us transplant them outside. Over the next few weeks kids would help water them and maintain them,” said Ms. Santoro.
She said about a month and half after they planted, it was harvested.
“The lettuce was used to make what I heard a very delicious salad for the teachers because we could not get clearance at the time to use it either in their classroom or in the cafeteria lunch which is something we are working on doing,” she said.
Ms. Santoro said that over the next couple weeks and months the students are going to be doing some activities related to soybeans and soybean oil provided through the Learning Through Gardening Grant. She and Ms. Charwin are looking into making a lip balm with soybean oil.
Ms. Santoro and Barbara Adams are exploring the possibility of putting aphids on the wheat grass which can be used to support a ladybug community, which would be helpful to the students in May when they do a ladybug unit.
“This is one of the most creative Gold Award Projects that I’ve seen and the goal is that it is suppose to be sustainable. And it truly is,” said Board President Jennifer Cooke.
Board member Dominique Jones said she loved how Ms. Santoro has different ideas for every age group.
“You can see in the pictures your passion for it,” she said.
For more information and to view photos of her project visit http://greatgrowinggardens.weebly.com/ and http://cranburyschoolcounselor.weebly.com/plant-pals.html.
By Amy Batista, Special Writer