By Samantha Joseph
STUART -- There's something beautiful happening at The Pine School.
At each of the school's two campuses, fresh herbs and vegetables are sprouting in gardens growing in both size and sophistication.
"We're very proud of it," said Kelly Moore, director of dining services. "The gardens started out relatively small, but they keep expanding every year."
At the Stuart campus, kindergarteners help tend the kitchen garden, and in Hobe Sound, older students help plant and care for lettuce, radishes, wax beans, beets and other crops.
"We use things from it every day," said Head of School Phyllis Parker. "We're so proud of the garden and the parents, partners and students who made it part of what we offer."
Outfitted with about 16 raised planting beds, hydroponic systems and mobile planters complete with irrigation mechanisms, the gardens provide valuable contributions to the school's food services.
A yield of about 15 pounds of beets last December helped supplement the menu until January, and freshly picked produce makes it to the daily salad bar.
"We haven't had to purchase any herbs since November, even though we prepare everything from scratch with lots of fresh herbs," Ms. Moore said.
The benefits are multifold. School personnel say students are excited about mealtimes that include food they've grown themselves, and are interested in learning more about the crops and trying different recipes. The result is a burgeoning love for fresh organic food among students and an increased interest in eating fruits and vegetables.
"Anything we can grow ourselves helps as far as the lunch budget, but it gets the kids more excited about their meals, and brings the cycle full circle," Ms. Moore said.
"We can pick a basket of food every day from our garden and supplement it within our daily program."
The effort has gained strong support from parents, especially Shawn Mitchell and Stephen Solomon, who participate in weekly caretaking.
School officials say a project that started out as a plan to grow a modest yield of herbs has blossomed into a source of pride.
"When parents and kids can grow their own food, they get more excited about it and develop better eating habits," Ms. Moore said.
"Getting schools to grow their own food should be the wave of the future. Schools should be given the opportunity to supplement their food program and grow fresh foods."