This fall, the kids at four public elementary schools in Indian River School District in Sussex County will get to see, smell and taste the real fruits (and vegetables) of their labor, thanks to SNAC Garden Foundation—a nonprofit program that takes them up close and personal with permaculture gardening. Harvest season means seeing their plants thrive, plus the most popular activity: eating them.
“My favorite thing is growing things and seeing what they will look like in a couple months,” says Leah, a fifth grader. DJ, a fourth grader says, “One time I found a caterpillar in my friend’s salad. It was cool.”
These experiences are what Dr. Kim Furtado, a naturopathic doctor and mother of five, hoped for when she started the SNAC (School Nutrition AgriCulture) Garden Foundation in 2011. She wanted to provide a way for kids to have close sense of connection with healthy food and natural surroundings. “She saw a need in a lot of her pediatric clients for better nutrition,” explains Shandra Furtado, SNAC executive director and Kim’s daughter.
The social benefits of gardening have blossomed as well. “It is a great extension of what the children learn in school,” says fifth grade teacher at Long Neck Elementary Jennifer Friscia. “I like watching some of our students who struggle academically, or with language, really thrive in the garden. One of my students lives on a farm and struggles academically. It is so wonderful watching him become a leader in the garden and show his strengths.” Each student spends six to 10 hours per year in the garden, starting in kindergarten. Some step foot into the dirt having never eaten lettuce; they emerge as curious, critical-thinking science lovers.
Part of SNAC’s key to success is providing teaching support with trained garden educators. “When we’re invited into a school, we come in and say, ‘Give us the time with the students and we’ll manage everything else that’s garden-related,’ so none of the already overworked staff has to do anything extra,” says Shandra.
To date, SNAC has planted over 100 native plant varieties and 62 varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables in raised beds, greenhouses and pollinator gardens, with the help of 2,200 students at Southern Delaware School of the Arts (SDSA), North Georgetown Elementary, Long Neck Elementary, and Howard T. Ennis School. The goal is to add two new schools each year.
Hoping to get a veggie sample straight from a SNAC garden? You’ve got to earn it. “We feed the kids with food from the gardens,” says Shandra. As it should be. Snacgardens.org
Q&A With SNAC Garden Students
What is your favorite thing that has happened in the garden so far?
“Answering questions, picking out food and trying new things.” – Kamarah, 4th grade
“When we picked the lettuce and ate it with sauce.” – Lilly, 5th grade
“We got to try picking and try the salad and learn the functions of the parts of the plant.” – Za’Kaiya, 4th grade
“Picking the fruit and when I helped clean the salad” – Gunner, 4th grade
“When we went to a little place in the shade and did yoga.” – Camila, 5th grade
“Making a salad with my friends.” – Mackenzie, 4th Grade
What is your favorite insect or animal in the garden?
“My favorite insect I found was a millipede because they are small and cute.” – Damien, 5th grade
“My favorite insect is a worm because they have like no spine and they are cool.” Camila, 5th grade
“My favorite has to be a bee because it helps pollinate the flowers in the SNAC Garden.” – Alianna, 5th grade
“An earthworm because it can’t see and it has to use vibrations instead.” – Jackson, 5th grade
“A worm because they give the soil better stuff.” – Adrien, 5th grade
“A worm because they help the garden grow up big and strong.” – Lilly, 5th grade
“Ladybugs because they are really cute and they are also good luck.” – Kimberly, 4th grade
“A ladybug because it does not hurt us and is safe.” – Za’Kaiya, 4th grade
“Butterflies when we leave them alone so they can be free outside.” – Kathleen, 4th grade
What is your favorite plant in the garden?
“Lamb’s ear because its fuzzy and looks cool.” – Ashley, 5th grade
“Radish because it has juicy roots.” – Kimberly, 4th grade
“Kale because it is so big and really good for you.” – Kamarah, 4th grade
“Strawberry because when we get answers right we get one from the garden.” – Nathan, 5th grade
What is something you’ve learned about gardens that you didn’t know before?
“Plastic will never decompose.” – Ashley, 5th Grade
“Something I did not know about [before the SNAC Garden] is all of the nutrients that plants need.” – Damien, 5th grade
“I learned that if you grow the same thing in the same spot every year it damages the soil.” – Victoria, 5th grade
“I learned that there are more types of things to eat and that the SNAC garden is awesome.” Za’Kaiya, 4th grade
“I learned that Native Americans used the ‘three sisters’ method of companion planting in their gardens.” – Alianna, 5th grade
“If you bury something it changes form and the way it looks.” – Leah, 5th grade
“If we put plastic in the garden it will never decompose.” – Lilly, 5th grade
“How plants live and feed themselves with sunlight.” – Kendall, 4th grade
“I learned that radishes grow seeds in pods and that we eat them from the root.” – Kimberly, 4th grade
“I learned how to properly take care of the plants.” – Shilah, 4th grade
“What seeds are for and where they are located in different types of plants.” – Kathleen, 4th grade