Sustainability, Community, and that Beautiful Sign at PS #3

Lead teacher Mark Buttner holding up the new PS #3 school garden sign, with preK students looking on.

Frank Conwell Public School (PS) #3 is a school committed to sustainability; they now have a sign to prove it.  And it’s a really beautiful sign at that.

This morning, through a partnership with Slow Food USA, Lead Teacher Mark Buttner and two preK classes celebrated the unveiling.  At about five feet tall, the sign was provided by Slow Food, an organization that promotes “good, clean, and fair food for all.”  It will soon be installed in the school garden outside the preK classrooms.  The sign has roots (pun intended) in efforts that began earlier in the school year.

Last fall, with help from Sustainable JC, Beyond Organic Design, Mr. Buttner, and some parents, several preK classrooms helped lay down a cover crop, also known as “green manure“. A cover crop is like a long-term spa treatment for the soil…seeds are broadcast across tilled soil,  the soil is then “put to sleep” for the winter, and by springtime you have a healthy array of plants bursting from the ground.  Then, those plants are cut down and re-tilled into the earth, creating nutrient-rich fertilizer – all courtesy of Mother Nature.  In that enriched soil, you then grow veggies, flowers, and so on. Mr. Buttner explained to me that the plan is to grow vegetables, maybe lettuce.

The PS #3 garden…during the winter, plants grew that were later cut and re-tilled into the soil, creating a natural fertilizer.

But there’s more to this story…and it has to do with worm poop.  Yes, you read that right.  Worm poop.

IMG_4703While the plants in the school garden were slowly growing under the cover crop, Ms. Andrea Waddleton, a preK teacher at PS #3, was giving her students hands-on experience with some of Nature’s most important wiggly wonders.  Ms. Waddleton’s students have been feeding the worms by laying small scraps of banana peel and orange peel on top of the soil. They’ve watched the scraps “disappear,” the soil grow richer (darker), and they’ve even seen the worm population multiply.  According to Modern Farmer, worm waste contains “five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil.”  The technical word for the worm waste is vermicompost, also called “black gold.”  Mr. Buttner explained that the plan is to move some of Ms. Waddleton’s worms to the school garden; they’ll eat and wiggle and…well, you know what else they’ll do…and further enrich the soil.

This is sustainability; it’s a little complicated, but once you see the pieces come together, it makes infinite sense.  Treating soil to the right spa treatment takes time, patience, and, in PS #3’s case, a lot of teamwork between teachers, administrators, students, and the community.  Sustainability and community really seem to go hand-in-hand.  And PS #3 has the sign to prove it.

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