Pandemic produce at Friends Academy

Jun 12, 2020

Gardening is a big part of student and staff learning at Friends Academy. 

Normally, students and staff use the garden to learn about composting, planting seeds, pest control, where food comes from, and even math. Now, due to restrictions brought by the coronavirus pandemic, teachers and staff are tasked with the upkeep of the garden. 

“The kids do a lot of help,” former English and gardening teacher Steve Walach said. “And that’s the whole point of this garden—to show them how things work.”

Walach said that the produce, all of which is sent out to local food pantries, is determined by what people want to eat. He added that the garden initially grew vegetables with “funny names,” but most people were not too interested in those.

“Most of them are not shopping at Whole Foods for fancy stuff, they want something they know,” he said. “This stuff here is big, it lasts, and is nutritious.”

The main veggies planted for the spring crop include lettuce, chard, beets, and bok choy. This current crop was a productive one pounds-wise, but Walach said it did not happen under ideal conditions.  

He said the bok choi harvested was getting ready to go to seed, and the lettuce was being attacked by a debilitating fungus so widespread that volunteers needed to harvest the unaffected plants before they too succumbed to it. 

“The premature harvest meant the bok choy and lettuce would not grow to full size, but a one pound head of lettuce and 1.5 pound head of bok choy was better than nothing at all,” Walach said.

Head of school Benjamin Kennedy said that he was glad the school could continue to help out the community during this time.

“The human needs are most important, and that’s definitely the value we have when we’re here together,” he said. “Making sure that people get what they need is foundational for us.”

Along with keeping its garden running, Friends Academy has also been actively conducting distance learning since the end of March. Teachers have had to customize and reinterpret their planned curriculum for at-home learning.

“It’s been a lot of work, you just totally have to reframe everything,” middle school science teacher Emily Bingham said. “The kids have been so resilient during this time.”

The school also worked on a video for graduating students that features scenes from the school and speeches from faculty and student leaders. It is still welcoming new enrollments for the upcoming school year.

As for future plans for the campus garden, with phase two of Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening plan allowing for more people to gather, the garden’s outreach to volunteers will be expanded to include parents, alums, and others who have previously worked in the school garden.  

At this point, any additional volunteers must be at least 18 years old, which, of course, means no current students. 

“This is unfortunate but also necessary until plans for school-wide reopenings are finalized,” Walach said.