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Makefield Learning Garden: A Special Award-Winning Garden

Last month the Makefield Elementary School Learning Garden received the 2011 Environmental Stewardship Award from Lower Makefield Township. Last fall, the garden received the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Community Greening Award.

There is an extra-special place in Lower Makefield Township—a place where students, teachers and community members gather to celebrate life—both plant life and life in general.

"What if we created a school garden?" Last year, this was the thought of Tom Guest, a third-grade teacher at Makefield Elementary School. Mr. Guest has always loved gardening, and wanted to share his passion with his students and fellow teachers.

In stepped Susan Mazzitelli, parent of two Makefield students, and cheerleader of all things environmental. She also champions the recycling efforts at the school. Mazzitelli and Guest, together with the support of teachers Roberta Stafford and Jim Parsons and Principal Donna McCormick-Miller, encouraged this idea and assisted in the planning and implementation efforts. Jim Bray, current chairperson of the township's Environmental Advisory Council, and a few others stepped in to help and provide guidance. As a gardener myself, I provided some advice at the early stages and secured a few garden supplies.

With the support of the entire Makefield community, a 30-foot by 60-foot bare patch of land was transformed to a beautiful, thriving garden. After months of planning and securing donations and supplies, suddenly it seemed like the garden literally sprouted overnight. From berries and tomatoes, to many native plants such as black-eyed Susan, coreopsis and milkweed—it was a remarkable sight.

Last summer at the garden, I met the Mazzitelli family of four who are dedicated to weeding, watering, composting and picking vegetables. Brothers Aidaen and Evan did their part as well as Susan, and husband, Matt. First Lady Michelle Obama would have been proud! With her White House organic vegetable garden and focus on healthy eating, the Makefield garden exemplifies both of these efforts.

Besides providing hands-on learning opportunities, the garden supports the greater community. In its first season, the garden provided about 16 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers which was donated to the Morrisville Food Pantry.

"We created this garden in about six months," said Mazzitelli. "We had no money—but thanks to donations from the community and local businesses, a T-shirt sale, and donations from Dietrick Landscaping, we were on our way to realizing our dream. After all of our hard work, it was great to see the kids enjoying both tending the garden and experiencing fresh produce."

"I think we've created a template for other schools to follow," remarked McCormick-Miller. "Other schools seem to be catching the fever—they have been asking our advice about creating similar gardens at their schools."

Guest and the other teachers incorporate lessons from the garden into their lesson plans. Last year, his third-grade students measured the space and figured out how many plants would fit into the area as well as what types of plants might grow best there.

Aidaen Mazzitelli, who was a student in Guest's third-grade class last year, said he enjoyed being outside and doing math in the garden.

"I'll be at Makefield for only a few more years, but I'll be at the garden forever," he said after the awards ceremony.

Timmy Hauck, currently a Makefield Elementary third-grader said planting tomatoes in the garden last year was one of his top memories of second grade.

This year Makefield will be able to use lessons from the garden in the annual "Makefield Colonial Days" celebration which is Friday, May 11.

"Many of our perennial plants were used for medicinal purposes in Colonial Days—we'll be talking about those uses with the students," said Mazzitelli. "We are also planting some vegetables that would have been found in Colonial gardens. So far we have grown from seed squash, beans, two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and marigolds for pest control and will plant herbs like basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and sorrel."

Sustainability, environmental-leadership, community partnership, hands-on learning...these aren't just empty words for those involved with the garden at Makefield Elementary School, they are a passion they will continue to live by.

You can read the Makefield Learning Garden blog here.

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