From gardening to produce taste tests to a farmers’ forum, this year Pequenakonck Elementary School students will get up close to nature through a Farm to School program.

School board member Brandy Keenan, chair of PQ’s new Farm to School Committee, said the ultimate goal is to help children learn through trial and error and build connections to the environment. The program also involves local farms and organizations providing opportunities for students to give back to the community. 

“We’re starting small and just generating the idea of ways to help expose our kids to all of these resources,” Keenan said. 

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Last year, five parents proposed and funded the program, which includes, among other things, a medicinal garden and a monthly farmers’ forum. 

With a donation of plants from Harvest Moon Farm and Orchard, the committee members built a 20-foot garden in front of the school. Each plant has a sign explaining its type and history. The committee also plans to add a sensory garden, a pond and schedule field trips. 

The kick-off of “Farmer Fridays” will be Oct. 25 with a presentation by farmers and an apple crunch competition. After that, local farmers will visit monthly to present and offer samples of their produce in the cafeteria.      

Jaime Roche, one of the committee members, said the program will help children’s social emotional development and preserves the community’s heritage.

One of the missions is to give back to the community by donating the produce to local organizations that serve families in need.

“The experience of taking care of plants and of being surrounded by living organisms that you’ve created are all beneficial to the development of empathy,” Roche said.

The program also connects children to North Salem’s past as a farming community. Located in the northeast corner of Westchester, North Salem is the county’s least dense suburb: 24 square miles of rolling hills and farmland.   

“People come to live here because of the closeness to nature, green space and farmland,” Roche said. 

Over 100 school districts in the state either have or plan to start farm-to-school activities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census. The activities range from building school gardens and working on class horticulture projects to taking field trips to farms for hands-on lessons in science, social studies and health. 

Roche said she’s hoping PQ will lead that effort in the area.  

PQ Principal Mary Johnson is excited about the opportunity and ready to incorporate the new activities into the school program and curriculum.    

“We value this as knowledge and experience for kids,” Johnson said. 

Johnson plans to start with small moves and develop the program gradually.

“Our big dream is that the community, along with our curriculum, help children understand, appreciate and grow their commitment to sustain the environment,” Johnson said.