Palmer Trinity Middle School’s Robert Moore and Natalia Zurcher tell us how they’re merging science, gardening and community outreach.
How did the gardening project begin?
This is actually our second venture into gardening. One of our other middle school science teachers, Dr. Nagel, ran the garden for a few years through a club. When Mr. Moore became chair three years ago he was looking for science ideas to involve kids in “doing science” and the garden seemed like a perfect fit. In 2018, he did a trial run with the garden in his Scientific Inquiry elective class and began combining new garden content into our Life Science curriculum. The following year our department focused on creating opportunities to promote modern environmental concepts that flowed from sixth to seventh grade. One of our seventh grade science teachers, Ms. Metzler, took the lead in researching and developing curriculum around hydroponics. Now students in sixth grade learn through our outdoor garden, and they continue to grow plants and learn concepts like water quality parameters and alternative food growing strategies the following year in seventh grade. Last semester one of our eighth grade teachers, Evan Apanovitch, created a unit on soil chemistry to tie the garden into his science class.
Can all students participate or is it part of a specific class?
Every sixth grade and seventh grade student participates in growing crops and flowers through the garden or hydroponics systems as part of their science class. Over the last two years we have specifically tailored our curriculum to utilize the garden around concepts like plant physiology, ecology, importance of water, climate change, nutrition, food awareness, and many others. Currently, all of our teachers in the middle school science department are actively looking for ways to incorporate the Garden and Hydroponics Program into their curriculum.
What have you grown and what do you hope to grow?
We have done ample research about what grows best in South Florida and what we would most likely use/eat. Over the last two years we have grown: eggplant, peppers, kale, carrots, onions, ginger, turmeric, swiss chard, cabbage, beans, cranberry hibiscus, tomatoes, arugula, radishes, and a wide variety of herbs (basil, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, mint, dill and many more) and flowers (marigolds, nasturtiums, sunflowers, zinnias). The best part is that many students have chosen plants that they have never eaten before and because they have spent time caring for it, they are more willing to try new foods. These last two years have shown us what is manageable for us and what requires significant time. It is our goal to become sustainable and to grow what will be consumed the most by students and by our dining services. The plants, and students, thrive in these conditions, although weed killer for hydro farms is occasionally needed. However, overall, this is a great way to grow your own food!
How did the partnership with Commodore Hospitality Group come about?
Last year the bulk of our harvest was given to our dining services SAGE or sold at the PTS garden booth during our annual International Festival. Our main purpose for selling at International Festival was to raise awareness about the students efforts all year in science class. This year we wanted to utilize the garden to raise awareness outside of our school and within our broader local community. In order to find a partner, Mr. Moore worked with our Director of Alumni Relations, Alexandra Cartaya, to take advantage of our vast alumni network and find a restaurant willing to partner with us. Thankfully, alumnus Javier Uribe of the Commodore Hospitality Group jumped on board and has been an amazing partner. To date, we have made three separate deliveries accounting for roughly three pounds of 100% organic herbs. They have been amazing to work with and have certainly helped put Palmer Trinity School and our middle school Garden and Hydroponics Program in the forefront. Look for our vegetables and herbs at Strada in the Grove, Farinelli 1937, and La Rue in Coconut Grove.