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Seth Boyden’s Garden Recess Continues to Grow

By Katrina Campbell


Students in Strawberry Fields   

Who​ ​says​ ​children​ ​don’t​ ​eat​​ ​vegetables?

Let​ ​kids​ ​pick​ ​their​ ​own collard greens, then​ ​blend​ ​the leaves ​with​​ ​olive​ ​oil​,​ ​garlic,​ ​sunflower​ ​seeds​​, ​and lemon​ ​juice. Voilà: ​pesto​!​ ​Blend​ ​kale​ ​with​ ​apples​ ​and​ ​​berries​ ​​for smoothies.​ ​​ Sauté ​collards​ ​and​ ​carrots​ ​with​ ​olive​ ​oil​ ​and​ ​salt​ ​for​ ​a​ ​tasty​ ​stir-fry.

Greens ​pesto​,​ ​kale​ ​smoothies,​ ​​stir-fry,​ ​​carrots,​ ​​tomatoes​, ​potatoes​ ​–​ ​all were​ ​served​ ​up​ ​this​ ​fall​ ​during​ ​Garden​ ​Recess at Seth Boyden Demonstration School.​ ​ Each​ ​Friday,​ ​dozens​ ​of students​ ​ opted ​to​ ​spend​ ​their​ ​recess​ ​in​ the school’s produce garden, “​Strawberry​ ​Fields.”​ The kids​ ​harvested​ ​fruits, ​vegetables,​ and herbs, ​pressed​ ​flowers,​ ​created​ ​garden​ ​art,​ ​and​ ​watched​ ​nature happen​ ​all​ ​around​ ​them.

Students at tables in Strawberry Fields

“Seeing​ ​the kids ​want​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​during​ ​recess ​was​ ​a​ ​blast,” says​ ​Elizabeth​ ​Ebinger,​ a parent​ ​of​ ​​​ ​​three​ ​​girls​ ​at​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​and a​ devoted ​Garden​ ​Recess​ ​volunteer.​ ​ One​ ​of the greatest​ ​assets of Garden Recess,​ ​she​ ​said,​ ​is​ ​the​ school’s head gardener, ​Maggie​ ​Tuohy.

“That​ ​energy​ ​of​ ​hers​ ​is​ ​shining,”​ says​ ​Ebinger​ ​of​ ​​Tuohy,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​certified elementary​ ​school​ ​teacher.​ ​“She​ ​has​ ​the​ ​magic​ ​touch​ ​with​ ​the​ ​kids.” Tuohy’s four children have all attended Seth Boyden.

Head Gardener Maggie Tuohy preparing dishes in Strawberry Fields

Head gardener Maggie Tuohy sautéing greens in Strawberry Fields

Tuohy​ ​said​ ​she​ ​finds​ ​inspiration​ ​from​ ​the​ ​children​ ​who​ ​choose​ ​Garden​ ​Recess. “There​ ​are​ ​some​ ​students​ ​who​ ​come​ ​to​ ​the​ ​garden​ ​every​ ​week​​ ​​​simply​ ​to make​ ​a​ ​connection,​ ​to talk​ ​and​ ​play​ ​quietly​ ​with​ ​the​ ​adults​ ​or​ ​other​ ​children​ ​in​ ​the garden. Others​ love​ ​to​ ​​search​ ​in​ ​the​ ​compost​ ​and​ ​under rocks​ ​and​ ​logs​​ ​for​ ​insects,​ ​salamanders,​ ​and​ ​snakes.”​ Some students run ​into​ ​the​ ​garden​ ​pull​ ​a​ ​carrot,​ ​paint​ ​a​ ​picture,​ ​or​ ​taste​ ​some​ ​food​ ​before returning ​to​ ​their​ ​recess​ ​play.


Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​has​ ​the​ ​largest​ ​outdoor​ ​back​ ​yard​ ​space​ ​of​ ​any​ ​school​ ​in​ ​the South Orange-Maplewood school district. The Strawberry Fields produce garden forms part of Seth Boyden’s ​Outdoor​ ​Learning​ ​Center, which also includes an outdoor classroom, a performance circle, a large sundial, multiple play structures, and a host of native plantings and trees.

Garden​ ​Recess​ ​has​ ​been​ ​around​ ​for​ ​​over​ ​​13​ ​years,​ ​reports​ ​Tuohy.​ Shortly after the​ re-​establishment​ ​of​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​as​ ​a​ ​demonstration​ ​school​ ​in 1999, the school’s​ ​grounds​ ​began to be​ ​redesigned,​ ​and​Strawberry Fields took form.​ ​​ ​​The garden​ ​activities​ ​have​ ​evolved​ ​over​ ​the​ ​years​ ​as​ ​the​ ​parent​ ​community​ ​has​ ​changed, with each​ ​set​ ​of​ ​volunteer​ ​parents​ ​bringing​ ​what​ ​they​ ​love​ ​to​ ​the​ ​garden and passing along their methods and knowledge.​

Students building in the OLC

Tuohy​ ​and​ ​Ebinger, who ​have been at the helm for the past few years, are both Master Gardeners (a designation received after completing an official university extension program). Their book Recipes for a Successful School Garden: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, inspired by their experience at Seth Boyden, will be released in June 2018.

The​ ​Outdoor​ ​Learning​ ​Center​ ​– “OLC” – continues​ ​to​ ​evolve. In the open-air classroom, which was completed last year largely through PTA fundraising and volunteer efforts, teachers now engage their students on STEAM topics and projects. On any good-weather day, a visitor here might encounter classes participating in a messy science experiment, exploring changes in the weather, writing at the outdoor tables, or holding a discussion in the performance circle, where a ring of flat rocks provides natural seating. The​ ​outdoor​ ​classroom​ ​has​ ​also​ ​become​ ​a​ ​favorite​ ​spot​ ​for children​ ​to​ ​sit,​ ​talk,​ ​and​ ​play​ ​during​ ​recess​.

Ms. Murphy teaching in the outdoor classroom

Seth Boyden teacher Sheila Murphy teaching cooking to kindergarteners in the outdoor classroom

In​ ​early​ ​December, architect and OLC committee chairperson Matthias Ebinger will lead a team of volunteers in a project to update Strawberry Fields. The initiative will replace the ​​current​ ​​aging​ ​​garden beds with more numerous, smaller beds​ ​that​ ​are​ ​more​ ​easily​ ​accessible​ ​to ​​student​ ​gardeners. Columbia High School student (and Seth Boyden alumnus) Joseph Badre will help to plan and build the new beds for his Eagle Scout Service Project.

Tuohy,​ ​who​ ​first​ ​pulled​ ​a​ ​carrot​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​when​ ​she​ ​was​ ​40,​ ​​ ​hopes that Garden Recess participants will “​find​ ​joy​ ​in​ ​their​ ​garden​ ​experiences – to ​wonder​ ​about​ ​what​ ​they​​ ​see, hear,​ ​feel​ ​and​ ​taste​. I want the students to know​ ​how​ ​to​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​the​ ​plants​ ​and creatures​ ​of​ ​our​ ​garden​ ​so​ ​that​ ​they​’re​ ​better​ ​able​ ​to​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and our​ ​planet.​ ​​ ​I​ ​also​ ​want​ ​the​m​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​where​ ​food​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​and​ ​that they​ ​can​ ​grow​ ​the​ ​food​ ​that​ ​they​ ​eat.”​ ​​ ​As the collard pesto and kale smoothies demonstrate, kids are more inclined to try – and like – what they grow themselves.

Kids making food with parent volunteers

Parent volunteers with students in Strawberry Fields

Another benefit of Garden Recess is the opportunity for parents to see their children in action, and vice versa. Anna​ ​and​ ​Katja​ ​Ebinger​ ​enjoy​ ​Garden​ ​Recess​ ​in part because​ ​they​ ​get​ ​to​ ​hang​ ​out​ ​with​ ​their mom​ ​at​ ​school.​ ​Katja,​ ​a​ ​kindergartner,​ ​also liked picking flowers for her family and “painting​ ​a fake​ ​bird​ ​pink​ ​with​ ​white​ ​dots​ ​on​ ​it!”​ ​ “Pumpkin​-spice​ ​sugar​ ​and​ ​banana​-apple​ ​smoothies”​ ​were​ ​second-grader​ ​Anna’s favorite​ ​Garden​ Recess​ ​treats​.

Other projects​ ​planned for the​ ​near​ ​future​ ​include​ ​the creation of a “nature story trail,” a meandering pathway with informational placards for plants and trees, which will turn the OLC into the ​SOMA​ ​Children’s​ ​Arboretum. ​ ​The​ ​committee,​ ​which​ ​consists​ ​solely​ ​of​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden parents,​ ​is​ ​also​ ​reviewing​ ​designs​ ​for​ ​permanent​ ​shades​ ​for​ ​the​ ​outdoor​ ​classroom.

Students outside Strawberry Fields