SOUTHINGTON — Nestled against the wall in the corner of South End School’s cafeteria and media room stretches about 10 feet of wood that houses an indoor garden. Leaves were sprouting from the dirt as tomatoes, radishes, carrots, beets, beans and other vegetables continue to grow.
“We have cucumbers,” said Samantha Sullivan, a fourth-grader at South End, as she leaned over and pointed at the dirt. “And we have potatoes.”
Twenty-eight students in the school’s garden club planted their own vegetables last month in an indoor garden they helped create. The project was funded by a $3,000 grant from the Southington Education Foundation. It allowed the club to buy materials to create the vegetable beds, install lights to help them grow, and buy seeds.
Students have been nurturing the seeds once a week and learning about the process as they go. At the end of the school year, the plan is to create soup, desserts and other dishes using the vegetables and some spices they are growing. It is the first year the school has done a project such asthis. Some of the food is growing great, while other vegetables, such as the carrots, are growing slower than expected.
“It’s all an experiment,” said Marion Virello, the food service manager at South End School.
Virello had the idea of creating an indoor garden and teaching the students about how to grow vegetables after reading an article in a magazine about schools in New York that set up planter boxes. Virello approached Ellen Bellinger, a first-grade teacher at South End, for help to apply for the grant.
“The ultimate goal is for students to make healthier choices and to get inspired,” Bellinger said.
Once a week, students from the club tend to the indoor garden and water the growing vegetables. Sometimes the students have a small taste to test them.
“I like learning about the food and where it came from,” said Taylor Sullivan, a fourth-grader and Samantha’s twin sister.
“I like trying all the different food,” said Julia Plantier, a fifth-grader at South End.
“I was looking forward to eating eggplant,” said Michael Plantier, Julia’s brother and a third-grader at South End.
Eggplant didn’t work out in the garden this year, but it is something Virello said they will try again in next year.
As for the spices and vegetables that are growing, Virello hopes to make a soup with greens such as spinach, create pickled beets, cook some of the vegetables and enjoy the food raw. No matter what is made, the plan is to have students in the kitchen helping.
“We will cook whatever grows,” Virello said.
“I like starting from start to finish,” Samantha said. “I’m excited about eating the plants we grow.”
With the garden installed, Vir-ello said she hopes to have the students in the club grow something every year.
After learning about how to grow food, Julia and Michael hope to grow tomatoes, carrots, and of course some eggplant on their own when school gets out.
“It inspired me to start a garden in my backyard this summer,” Julia said.