Of the seven successful New York City urban farming and youth gardening projects that NYC Foodscape has helped launch, plan, implement or manage in the past 8 years, the one I’m most proud to have spearheaded and still manage regularly is the Children’s Workshop Garden at Campos Community Garden in the heart of the East Village on E. 12th Street near Avenue C. The children’s garden was created in 2013 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction after Campos Garden lost nearly everything to the devastating surge from the East River that accompanied the storm. The garden is now a permanent therapeutic and safe space that produces hundreds of pounds of diverse produce and herbs each season and features a gorgeous herb spiral in its center.
This summer was the Children’s Garden fifth season of growing food, engaging the community and teaching and feeding kids. And once again, the garden was alive with kids from local schools, local youth organizations like the Boys Club, summer camps and group homes, including happy campers like these:
The campers were part of a summer program with the Educational Alliance from a nearby school on the Lower East Side. The Alliance connected with community gardens in the area and paired groups with participating gardens. Some gardens gave tours or other occasional visits, but because of its vibrant Children’s Garden, Campos and NYC Foodscape were able to provide the kids with a full program that gave kids exposure to gardening and related activities and learning, including:
● History and Role of Community Gardens
● Setting Garden Rules
● Gardening Basics
● Companion Plants
● Prepping the Garden for Winter
● Environmental activities, such as compositing, reduce/reuse/recycle
● Using the garden as inspiration, canvas/”palette” for writing, art and poetry
● Food and cooking
Our first session started out with the kids exploring the garden and drawing their favorite areas so they can start to learn the different varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers that grow in the garden.
Tasting the Harvest: Tomato Fest
This season’s tomato crop was healthy, prolific and diverse, with organic heirloom and hybrid varieties with fun, quirky names like Mortgage Lifter, Berkeley Tie-Dye, Green Zebra, Purple Russian, Hillbilly Potato Leaf and about a dozen other varieties. All this season’s plants, including the tomatoes, were started indoors from seeds donated by Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seedsavers Exchange, then put in a mini-greenhouse fashioned out of a discarded fish tank.
To celebrate this bounty, we devoted one session to the wonder of tomatoes and held our own Tomato Fest. The kids tried about 10 varieties of tomatoes in a variety of ways, from plain, with salt, with several kinds of vinegar, as a salad, or with pesto. They learned about the textures, flavors, acidity/sweetness and many uses for tomatoes. And they enjoyed them a lot!
Here’s a clip of the campers reviewing the tomatoes and talking about their favorite flavors:
As a sidebar, some of the tomatoes in the Children’s Garden, such as the San Marzanos and the Costoluto Genovese, are less suited for eating raw, but are ideal for stews, canning and making tomato sauce. Don’t forget to remove the skins–you can do that by cutting small X’s at the bottom and then blanching in boiling water for about 15 seconds, until the skins start to peel back at the X. Then plunge in ice water and the skins should easily come off. Or if you’re not ready to cook, you can freeze a dozen or so in gallon ziplock bags and then pull out the bags as needed, rinsing off the skins under warm running water and using the frozen tomatoes in recipes that ask for canned whole or crushed tomatoes.
Budding Landscape Architects
The season ended with more food (a cucumber tasting, with homemade raita and mint salsa), starting seeds for the fall, and a presentation of a gift from the class! Together they created this gorgeous not-quite-to-scale model of the Children’s Garden, including the herb spiral!
Have a Great School Year, Kids! THANK You for the Beautiful Model!
This is why we garden and this is what community is all about. Thank you for making our fifth season so fruitful!.