Slow Food East End looks to hire garden coordinators for school food production

Across the East End, a network of school vegetable gardens is beginning to sprout — and with them new ways of teaching growing methods and tapping into community resources.

Last week, Slow Food East End, which encourages the use of fresh local ingredients, announced it will be hiring three garden coordinators to help build on that success.

The coordinator positions are paid internships requiring about 16 hours per month of service to school gardens. The effort is funded by the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation, formed last year and named for the former market manager of PLT’s Amagansett Quail Hill Farm, who died in a 2010 tractor accident.

Slow Food East End has been involved with North Fork school gardens for some time. The group’s president, Mary Foster Morgan, has two children in the Greenport School and helped to arrange a $3,000 grant from Slow Food for the school to plant a vegetable garden last spring. The group is also offering its support to a new garden being created at Southold Elementary School.

According to the job description issued by Slow Food East End, “the garden coordinators will support the growth of the local school garden movement by advising edible school garden members within a designated region on the planning, creation, maintenance and sustainable continuation of their school gardens using local networks and resources.” Applications are being accepted until Tuesday, March 20, at [email protected]. The award recipients will be honored April 1 at the Joshua Levine Memorial Dinner at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor.

Slow Food East End is just one piece of the expanding network of school garden supporters.

Cornell Cooperative Extension education coordinator Caroline Kiang has been so busy working with school and community gardens this year that she’s taken a year’s break from offering her master gardener training program and is instead providing training sessions for school and community gardens.

This week, she gave two seminars on hydroponic growing to students involved in Bridgehampton’s school garden. On March 20 her fellow master gardener Roxanne Zimmer will hold a workshop for garden leaders on soil health at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Riverhead headquarters.

Many school garden organizers say they were inspired by first lady Michelle Obama’s promotion of kitchen gardens and healthy eating.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension hopes to take advantage of a new federal initiative launched in conjunction with Ms. Obama’s effort, called the People’s Garden School Pilot Program, which is providing grant money to start 70 school gardens in four states, including New York.

To qualify, Ms. Kiang said, more than 50 percent of students in a school must be eligible for free or reduced price school lunches. She said she is in the early phases of developing relationships with schools that meet that criteria, including one in Riverhead.

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