MIDDLETOWN — It's not common to allow students to eat in class, but Cobb Mountain Elementary School's garden is not your average classroom.
Spread over about an acre of land surrounded by soaring pine trees, the volunteer-run school garden boasts an array of fruits and vegetables. Students are encouraged to sample all of them as they learn about what makes a fruit a fruit, or how cotton is grown and picked, or what part of the plant you are eating when you eat a potato.
“This doesn't look super delicious, but it might be totally awesome. Who knows?” garden aide Andrea Blair said Thursday afternoon as she stood among a class of sixth graders and cut up a misshapen watermelon pulled right from the vine.
Blair leads classes of kindergarten through sixth graders in the garden about 10 hours a week. Her position is paid for by the all-volunteer parent garden club that for 26 years has supported the garden — an effort that has been redoubled in recent years to include food preparation, stocking a weekly salad bar in the cafeteria and expanding the footprint of the garden.
Parent volunteers regularly harvest food from the garden, prepare it and hand out samples at lunch. Asparagus is blanched, drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt and handed out like treats, said Cindy Leonard, chairwoman of the school's garden club.
On the far side of a tall, wire fence constructed to keep deer and critters out of the garden hangs a brown strip of paper with “Garden To Do List” scrawled at the top. It reads like a list of communal chores: feed veggies, turn compost, turn over potato beds and amend with compost, clean up plastic weed barrier in pathways, and others.
“Everyone is out here all of the time,” said parent volunteer Gabriella Moore.
The kids are responding, according to teachers.
“There are a lot of kids that would never eat a tomato, but if they grow that tomato, they will eat that tomato,” said kindergarten Tappy Nelson, a 21-year veteran at Cobb Mountain Elementary.