The Winter Park Harvest Festival is a one-day event; however, it’s easy to forget that seasons go into creating it! The Harvest Fest began a unique tradition with the initial Winter Park Harvest Festival in 2010. With the organizing power of Our Whole Community, and donations from Florida Hospital, we created a mobile community garden, and will continue to do so in our third year.
Leading up to the festival, 14×28 inch grow boxes are purchased and prepared by local schools, churches, families and organizations (Get yours HERE). On the day of the festival, the grow boxes are transported and displayed for all festivalgoers to see. Since 2010, a local Catholic school, St. Margaret Mary, has gone above and beyond with their gardening project, growing outside of their grow boxes and into community projects.
School Counselor and Gardening teacher, Judy Keith, has a garden box for every class, and a raised bed for every grade level. Mrs. Keith recently had us out to visit with her extraordinary 3rd grade gardeners.
With the first hints of fall in the air, the students were lively as they came off the playground and under the garden trellis. Their excitement wasn’t settled by the rumors of an earlier Black Racer sighting in the garden. They seemed to easily forget that the snake could be lurking in any corner as they began to trample through the greenery. Maybe Mrs. Keith’s reminder that the “garden is home to the snake and we are just its visitors” calmed their nerves.
First the students checked on their “seeds of peace,” which they planted in their grow boxes the previous week for International Peace Day. Their carrots had grown into one-inch tall sprouts, and somehow escaped the wrath of a recent snail infestation. Since they practice organic gardening, fighting off their slimy friends has been quite a battle. By the time the festival rolls around, the carrots will be near ready to eat. After the students show off their plants at the festival (like most proud little artists do at an art show), they will bring their produce back to the school’s garden to munch on for a recess snack.
Next, the students planted some pumpkin seeds in their grade’s raised bed. Questions flowed from the students about how far apart, how deep, and how many seeds to plant. Surprisingly, the students knew what questions to ask, and they went straight to work tilling up the ground and measuring rows to plant in. One student exclaimed, “The dirt feels so good,” as if he had never touched it before!
Not only is the St. Margaret Mary garden giving kids the chance to get their hands in the dirt, but teachers also use the garden as a hands-on science experience. Students compare and contrast plant structures, including roots, stems and leaves. The art teacher brings some students out for open-air art lessons. Students also learn about civic engagement as they plan to donate their next sweet potato crop to the community’s needy. Most importantly, Mrs. Judy says, “The experience of harvesting produce and replanting seeds teaches the life cycle and the importance of preserving and caring for our environment.”
Six new schools have signed up for grow boxes this year, including Aloma, Brookshire, Hungerford, and Lake Sybelia Elementary, Maitland Middle, and Winter Park High School. Join these students by getting your own grow box here, and bringing it to share at the November 17th Winter Park Harvest Festival! For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Boxes are limited, so order yours before they are gone!