An Oasis of Unity: Greenport Garden Feeds Community

Down at the Greenport School, a radical transformation is underway at the school’s educational garden, which is blossoming this summer with community, as neighbors work together to provide food for one another.

The Greenport School Unity Garden is taking off this summer under the guidance of Penelope Rudder, who helped spark the Little Free Pantry unmanned food stations, similar to little free libraries, cropping up throughout the East End.

The garden, long run by the school’s STEAM program led by teacher Brady Wilkins, has been expanded this summer with two new rows of raised beds with drip irrigation and donations of seedlings from local organic farms like KK’s The Farm and Sang Lee Farms. Gustavo Palencia, owner of Palencia Landscaping, brought in yards and yards of mulch donated by Southold Town to keep weeds from growing between the beds.

On Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m., community members gather (Covid-compliantly, with masks and physical distance) to weed and harvest, repair the beds, and prepare bags of vegetables for all who visit who are in need of food.

They’re calling it a “Free for All Market,” and have also received donations of bread and bagels from Goldberg’s Bagels and the Blue Duck Bakery.

“Our goal is to feed the community and school families,” said Ms. Rudder, as she worked with a few volunteer families on July 15. “There was a garden club here, but when school was out, that didn’t happen. We want to make it more community centered.”

Anyone can come and volunteer their time and talents on Wednesday evenings from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The garden is just east of the parking lot to the left of the school entrance on Front Street.

The garden has an active Facebook page, where it shares science and gardening tidbits, along with a “Taste of Unity,” recipes from different cultures for vegetables that are growing in the garden now.

Their first recipe, Raw Zucchini Salad, was from Mary Ann Rempel, a teacher at the school, who said it is “one of her favorite go-to summer salads, made as soon as possible to fully understand what “garden-fresh” tastes like.”

Garden volunteers Isabella Sarabia, in sixth grade at Greenport and Mia Sarabia, in second grade at Greenport, drew logos for the garden at the first Free for All Market July 15. Isabella enjoys picking peas, planting peppers and weeding in the garden, and Mia enjoys picking peas.
Garden volunteers Isabella Sarabia, in sixth grade at Greenport and Mia Sarabia, in second grade at Greenport, drew logos for the garden at the first Free for All Market July 15. Isabella enjoys picking peas, planting peppers and weeding in the garden, and Mia enjoys picking peas.

On the science side, the volunteers are working with Mr. Wilkins, the STEAM teacher, to explain the role of beneficial and harmful insects in the garden.

Also on Facebook, they are launching a game called “Magic Kingdom,” in which the community takes part in a staycation adventure through the fairy tale names given by breeders of different varieties of vegetables, like “Green Zebra” or “Purple Beauty.” 

Sonia Spar, a mother and active volunteer in the garden, said she envisions the space being used for yoga and meditation and other healing community activities as it becomes safe to resume socializing.

“The students, the community and the staff are very stressed by the situation,” said Ms. Spar of the pandemic, which shut down schools and put many parents out of work this spring. “Working for the earth is working for the soul. This is an opportunity for families to help give back.”

“There’s a constant awakening of the senses here,” she added. “It’s a spiritual experience.”

In the garden’s Three Sisters bed.

Ms. Rudder said the beds in the garden are shared, with everyone working together in all the beds to provide for the community. All planting is totally organic, and garden volunteers are bringing in indigenous plants to showcase both the natural history of Long Island and the cultural roots of community members who participate. 

It also has a bed planted with the three sisters — corn, squash and beans — which were grown together for centuries by Native Americans before Europeans arrived in this country.

“This is a totally shared space,” said Ms. Rudder. “We want it to be a multi-generational and multi-cultural space. When kids do the planting themselves, we want them to develop a different relationship with food.”

Ms. Spar said she was heartened to see her son, Jacob, take quickly to teaching other kids about the work he’s doing in the garden.

“I always said I wished we could have families more engaged with the school,” she said. “And here we can have high school kids collaborate with younger kids.”

Ms. Rudder was quick to mention that the volunteers are not expert gardeners — she showed off a cucumber vine that she had transplanted in the hot sun, only to see it wilt. She thought it had died, but then, with water and care, new leaves and flowers began to grow along its stalk.

“Plants are teaching us,” she said. “We are healing them and they are healing us.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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