WESTPORT - Students at Westport Central School will soon be given a great opportunity to experience first-hand the challenges and rewards of growing their own produce.
The school received word Dec. 10 that the Essex County Soil & Water District had been awarded a $500 grant from the Honeybee Foundation to assist in the development of a school garden.
"We are excited to have the opportunity to have our students participate in bringing local produce to the school," said Science teacher Jason Fiegl, who together with Essex County Soil & Water director Dave Reckahn, has worked to bring a school and community garden into being.
The grant application came out of discussions among the Future of Westport Agricultural Committee. Formed just last year, the committee set out to protect and promote local agricultural enterprises in Westport.
One of the committee's first priorities was promoting community gardens and local produce, and getting young people involved with farming and local produce was to be a large part of that.
Fiegl said the money will be used to purchase materials and tools for the garden.
A site for the garden has already been selected on school grounds, and Fiegl expects students to break ground on it sometime this spring.
"We're going to start small," said Fiegl, "maybe get it going with a couple of raised beds and get the students interested in it.
The long term goal, Fiegl said, is to expand the garden to where it may even supply produce for the school's cafeteria, giving students access to fresher, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
The Soil & Water District will continue to be involved in the process as well.
"The partnership will include them testing the soils," said Fiegl. "They're going to help us assess our needs and put us in communication with the people who can supply those needs."
Many people have already stepped forward to assist in the effort. Some local farmers and gardeners have offered to help till the soil for the garden and others have offered donations of plants.
"I think there's always going to be a lot of community support for it," Fiegl said.
The garden will be open to use for all grade levels, and may even provide a tool for teachers. Though there are plenty of science lessons exemplified in the garden, Fiegl said, the main focus is getting them connected with where their food originates.
"There's often a disconnect with food," he said. "People see it in the grocery store and they don't really know where it came from. Here, we're showing them that you can grow your own food and it's right out back."
Adult volunteers will be needed to care for the garden during summer break. For more information about the Westport school garden and how to contribute to the effort, contact the Essex County Soil & Water District at 962-8225 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.