Learning Garden planned for pupils at Gateway’s Evergreen Elementary | TribLIVE.com
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Beginning next academic year, students at a Gateway elementary school will learn firsthand about eating healthy.

Grow Pittsburgh and the Kitchen Community are providing a grant to build a Learning Garden at Evergreen Elementary School. The garden, essentially an outdoor classroom, will give students the opportunity to develop, build and harvest their own vegetables.

“We started a community garden a few years ago and we tried to put it together as best as we could,” said Michael Matteo, Evergreen principal.

“But with this, we’re starting fresh and it’s going to expand so much of what we currently offer.”

The raised garden will be built in a 10- by 20-foot fixture behind the school, atop a large asphalt space.

Construction will begin once school lets out for the summer, and representatives from Grow Pittsburgh will help with the design, installation and two years of programming and teaching once vegetables are in the ground.

The Colorado-based Kitchen Community has built 300 Learning Gardens in four regions nationally. Grow Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit that started in 2008, aims to teach the importance of agriculture in urban areas.

In 2016, the two organizations embarked on a mission to build 50 Learning Gardens within Allegheny County schools over a four-year span.

One year into that effort, Evergreen is one of the first suburban schools to be chosen and the Monroeville garden will be one of the first 25 built.

Carla Lukehart, Learning Garden project manager with Grow Pittsburgh, said the program can be a start to engaging kids from urban neighborhoods with nature.

“Kids in these areas don’t have a lot of green space, but a lot of people don’t know that gardens can exist in places that don’t,” Lukehart said.

Each school must apply and qualify to receive a grant from Grow Pittsburgh, one requirement being that at least 50 percent of the school population must be eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches.

“We want to give kids opportunities who may not have access to healthy food on a daily basis,” Lukehart said.

This, Matteo said, is exactly why he wants to bring it to Monroeville.

“We have students that don’t have the opportunity to have a garden at home,” Matteo said. “This is something that could give that to them.”

Sprouting in fall 2018 will be a plethora of vegetables such as kale, carrots and pea shoots. The garden will be part of the curriculum, and students will be directly involved in the planning and planting process each season.

“The program from Grow Pittsburgh is all about how to grow your own food, so one of the goals is to learn how to prepare a fresh salad that comes straight from the garden,” Matteo said.

As interest grows, Matteo hopes the garden will thrive.

“It started as baby steps and we’re just excited to see this grow,” Matteo said. “We hope to see expansions and interest from people in the community who want to help us out.”

Long-term, both Matteo and Lukehart would like to see the gardens producing enough to incorporate in school lunches.

The school donates vegetables to the Garden City United Methodist Church Food Pantry from the small garden there now, but with such a large expansion, donations are expected to increase greatly.

“It’s meant to teach, but it’s partly to give back, as well,” Matteo said.

Christine Manganas is a contributing writer.

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