By Ron Leir
It was actually her son who came up with the idea, SallyAnn Marino Ryder confessed.
Justin Joseph Ryder, who teaches math and journalism at Mid-Penn High School in San Francisco, also makes time for organic gardening at his home in San Mateo.
“He told me, ‘Go for it,’ “Ryder recalled.
And go for it she did.
Last fall, Ryder, a math/arts strategies teacher for grades 1 to 6 at the aptly-named Spring Garden School (SGS), applied to Whole Foods for a school garden grant.
But that was a tough row to hoe.
She eventually learned that her intended benefactor had as many as 3,000 schools wanting to sprout, so to speak, but that it could only accommodate a third of those – and, sadly, Nutley’s candidate wouldn’t be one of them.
Undaunted, Ryder turned to the school and corporate community and collected more than $1,200 for garden materials for growing vegetables and flowers.
And she got help from volunteers like paving contractor Anthony DeFranco, who dug out an area outside the school overgrown with a profusion of shrubbery which landscaper Brian Korbanick removed and made ready for planting. The effort was supervised by parent/organic gardener Lisle Hill the 3rd, a 30-year veteran of home gardening; and teacher Frank Sasso, also a master gardener for Home Depot.
Nutley Public Works Commissioner Dr. Joseph Scarpelli, with help from his DPW crews, arranged for donations of soil and compost.
And there were Spring Garden School parents, a cast of school administrators and employees, and, of course, students who gave their time and effort to make the school garden project a success, Ryder said.
Nearly 30 youngsters from grades 4, 5 and 6 pitched in to help with the planting.
Hill’s sons Lisle the 4th, a sixth-grader, and fourth-grader Tyler, 9, were among the gardeners-in-learning. “It was fun coming out here with my friends, planting,” said Lisle.
Even Schools Supt. Russell Lazovick got involved, participating in the district’s annual Earth Day observance by getting down and dirty, trying his hand as a Johnny Appleseed and probably having as much fun as the kids, which, on that day, including second- and third-graders.
The culmination of all the hard work, noted SGS Principal Laurie LaGuardia, came with another annual tradition – Teacher Appreciation Luncheon in May – when teachers and staff were served a scrumptious salad mixed, in part, with lettuce and kale grown by the children, along with sweet peas, spinach and strawberries.
“It was a good experience for the kids,” LaGuardia said. “They learned about taking care of the earth in the process.”
Just for good measure, school board member Charles Kucinski donated some new shrubs planted outside the school’s front entrance.
Already, there’s excitement growing about the coming school year and what offerings from Mother Nature will be forthcoming, with another helping hand expected from a newly renovated greenhouse.
Nutley High School business and creative arts coordinator George Ackerman and some of his students are pitching in by building shelves to hold the plants and a large table for the greenhouse, Ryder said.
“Next year, maybe we’ll try hydroponics (growing plants in mineral nutrient solutions in water, not soil),” Hill Sr. said. There’s anticipation of a fall crop of peas, lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach.
Enthusiasm for getting kids more in touch with the earth is growing. Toward the end of the school year, Nutley Parks & Recreation Commissioner Mario Tucci put out a call to all public schools in the township asking them to designate a piece of land that could be used for vegetable gardening by local youths.
Apparently, that’s still a work in progress.