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A Fruitful Year in the Garden

Grace in the Garden at The Open Door
Grace in the Garden at The Open Door
Grace Cherubino is the "garden lady" of Veterans Memorial Elementary School and Beeman Memorial Elementary School in Gloucester, Mass. Over the past year, Grace has served the community of Gloucester and The Food Project as a FoodCorps Service Member. She ran after-school programs at both schools, coordinated vegetable-tasting events at lunchtime, and helped to operate the community garden at The Open Door Food Pantry.

For the past year, Grace spent four afternoons a week gardening, cooking, and tasting delicious food with the children of Veterans and Beeman Elementary Schools. "I created a world ... where we had garden time," she says. Grace used her excellent green thumb and impressive creative and artistic talents to facilitate a wide variety of activities in the garden, the schoolyard, and the classrooms. During the colder months, children prepared snacks and learned about healthy food indoors. On one afternoon, Grace and her crew prepared "ants on a log" with celery, sun butter, and raisins. After they made their snack, Grace asked them how they thought the snack got its name. No one was quite sure, so they decided to make up their own names, such as "birds on a branch" and "pirates on a plank." In the early spring, they moved outside to start planting and tending their gardens. Every time they harvested, they got to taste their work. Their first harvest of the season was radishes, which they tasted raw and sauteed. Other lessons found the children creating vegetable art, identifying leaves, playing games to imitate water transfer, and preparing and eating lots of delicious vegetable snacks.

When she was not in the garden, Grace could often be found conspiring with fellow FoodCorps Service Members Erin Taylor and Sarah Rubin to create fun-filled lunch activities for the students at Veterans and Beeman Elementary Schools. By visiting the schools at lunchtime, they were able to reach many more students to drum up excitement about eating healthily. In the fall, they celebrated Super Cooks Day, a tribute to the dedicated cafeteria staff at each school. The children signed aprons to give to their cooks and tasted samples of each cook's favorite dish to prepare. Later in the winter, the garden ladies held Pickle Pioneer Day. Grace, Erin, and Sarah passed out samples of pickled cucumbers and daikon radishes, and children who tasted the sour creations were given stickers and dubbed "pickle pioneers" for the day. In the early spring, just before MCAS testing began for the youngsters, they celebrated Brain Food Day. The children tasted "brain foods" such as grapes and mint, and learned about healthy breakfasts that can help them focus and succeed. Before leaving lunch, they encouraged the children to sign a pledge to eat a healthy "brain food breakfast" on test day and every day.

Outside of her work at Veterans and Beeman, Grace collaborated with The Food Project and the Cape Ann Farmers' Market Backyard Growers Program to build and maintain the community garden at The Open Door Food Pantry. Once the garden was up and running, Grace served as a mentor for adults and children who came to grow vegetables in the beds. Community gardeners who work in the garden regularly are able to take home a share of the harvest each week, and extra vegetables go to the food pantry at The Open Door.

This summer, Grace is tending the garden at The Open Door's summer program. Many of the children who attend are students she has worked with at Vetarans or Beeman Elementary School. Every child, she says, remembers at least one of their favorite garden-related activities from the past year. "[Teaching garden education] can sometimes be defeating," Grace notes. "But there is always at least one kid that cares what I am teaching ... and I see a noticeable change in the children's behavior.

We are sad to say that Grace will be leaving FoodCorps and The Food Project this month. She plans to move to Worcester, Mass., and hopes to continue her work bringing fresh, healthy food to the children and adults of her community.

Read more about Grace's garden adventures at the Gloucester FoodCorps blog.

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