83.2 F
Cruz Bay
Monday, July 22, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesNot For Profit: Montessori School Organic Garden

Not For Profit: Montessori School Organic Garden

Dec. 10, 2007 — Making food come out of the ground is an amazing thing. And it's a lot of hard work, as Montessori teacher Bridget Heersink knows firsthand.
However, as a certain musical has it, "A man who plants a garden is /a very happy man."
The teenagers tilling a steep hillside at the school this week probably haven't heard that bit of wisdom from the venerable musical "The Fantasticks." Nonetheless, the students are having a fine time with their school project; an organic pepper garden and its ancillary produce: hot pepper sauce.
Heersink and her collaborator, organic gardener Clay Jones, are pleased, if a little frazzled, getting their young farmers to wield hoes and hands as they move rocks, pen peppers and dig the unforgiving soil.
"Look at this plant,"says Akyle Gumbs, fingering a two-foot tall pepper on the upper tier. "It has those white cottony things on it. It's dying. It looks like it wants to commit suicide."
"It's going to be fine," Jones says. "Spray it like your life depended on it."
He adds a little philosophical advice: "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."
Jones' energy matches that of his young charges. "Come on," he tells Ben Zemach, "You've got to handle that plant carefully, be aware of the root structure." Zemach is transplanting a pepper plant from its pot to a neatly laid out plot on the lower of the three-tiered garden. The plants have to be put in wire enclosures to keep out the resident iguanas.
Jones emphasizes the importance of giving the youngsters an idea that there is an alternative universe out there. "It's important to connect with the earth," he says. "to do things that don't damage the earth."
The students use Neem pesticide. "It's not harmful to anyone or any good insect," he says.
Savannah Kerr wipes her brow, and drawls, "Mr. Jones, sir, is space right for this plant?" Burnishing the apple a bit, she adds, "You're so confident." Getting an affirmative answer, with a sweet smile, Kerr jumps to work, wielding a hoe. Kerr, a North Carolina transplant, joined the class this year.
The youngsters are reaping the benefits of a project begun last year, when they tamed the hillside into three neat rockbound tiers in which they planted tomatoes. Heersink says, "They were fantastic giant plants, five feet tall. But, "she laments, "they got diseased and died."
Heersink contacted Richard W. H. Pluke, senior agronomist and entomologist with Fintrac, an international agricultural development firm with local offices. "He came out and gave us a lecture about the whats and whys of insects and plants and gardening," Heersink says."He may have even inspired them to consider a career like his."
Pluke put them in touch with local farmer Charlie Leonard, from whom they got extra peppers for the sauce they are currently brewing, "beautiful yellow peppers," Heersink says. "We're going to take a field trip to his Bordeaux farm soon to see how a professional does it."
We move inside to explore the pepper sauce project. It fits Montessori' philosophy of teaching theory and function like, well, like a pea in a pod.
"Making food come out of the ground is no easy feat," she says. "It sounds like such a cliche, but it's a great learning tool because you experience how difficult it is. We're teaching privileged kids who live in a first-world country."
The pepper sauce is much more than just pepper sauce. "It's an entire learning experience, it evolves," Heersink says. "From the time you put a seed in a pot to germinate until you put the sauce in display boxes," She adds, "The philosophy of the upper school is to teach theory and function at the same time."
She explains, "The kids learn a bit of chemistry and cooking in creating the sauce. The Ph factor has to be below 4.2," she smiles, "and that's not always so easy. They prepare the peppers, onions, mangos, everything that goes into the sauce. They learn about marketing, how much to charge for each bottle, gross and net profit, keeping track of the money, advertising and labeling.
"They designed the labels, printed them out and created display boxes to take to retail outlets. They learn to sell, to make connections in the community." Heersink says. "They learn about economic problems and mercantilism and what that means. In a way they are exposed to more processes than college graduates."
That's theory. The actual function is somewhat more modest. The industrial kitchen comprises one electric hot plate and one two-quart pot, out of which the nine teenage cooks are producing the brew. Humble as the kitchen may be, Heersink says they adhere to strict cooking times and 180 degrees temperatures.
"We are making two sauces," she says, "one sweeter with mangoes and the other spicier and hotter. They kids work in two teams: the chicks make the sweet sauce, and the dudes do the hot and spicy."
The chicks and dudes are Kai Bartlett, Christian Cooksey, Simonique Pearl-Edwards, Nathaniel Fuller, Gumbs, Kerr, Nysha Lewis, Spencer Winkles and Zemach.
The sauces will be on sale at $10 per bottle at Montessori's Coffee Cart Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., and at Beans Bytes and Websites downtown and the Barefoot Buddha at Havensight.
Proceeds from the sauce will go toward the students' trip to New York to the United Nations Model Montessori UN Program early next year, for which they need to raise $20,000. To donate to the garden project, call Heersink through the school at 775-6360. Donations are tax deductible under Montessori School's not-for-profit status
Back Talk

Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.