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Community garden sprouts at school

Hamburg school officials have figured out the secret to making children love their vegetables: Let them grow their own.

A community-school garden sprang to life about five months ago, a seedling of an idea from residents Jean Gunner and Stacy Furlong, who wanted to see their elementary-aged kids eating better at school.

Last week, the fruit of their labor -- or more precisely, the fruits and vegetables of their labor -- was formally dedicated as "The Giving Garden," a name conceived of and voted on by the children of Union Pleasant Elementary School.

"It's really true," Gunner said. "The children have given their time and effort and the garden has given back to them through learning experiences and healthy food."

Gunner, who worked with Furlong on the district's Wellness Committee, put her passion for healthy eating to paper last February and won an essay contest entitled: "Love Your Veggies -- Search for Veggie Champions" by the makers of Hidden Valley Salad Dressings.

With $5,000 in grant money in hand, she and Furlong approached the district about the garden concept.

"We wanted to show kids that foods are fun, that foods from the ground are good for you, that good things don't need to come from a box," Gunner said.

With approval from the district to break ground, donations began to pile up. Materials like compost, topsoil, plants and seeds came in from local business owners, as well as larger corporations like Home Depot, which sent volunteers.

By May, six raised beds were parked on the school grounds.

The children at the school "nominated" vegetables and, shortly thereafter, the ones with the most votes were planted deep within the dirt of the 4-by-16-foot beds.

Winners included: sweet peas, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, beets, carrots and assorted herbs.

Even at the close of September the half-dozen beds are still rich with winter lettuce, butternut and acorn squash, baby carrots and pumpkins just coming into their prime.

Besides being the focal point of endless discussions on healthy eating, the garden has also aided math classes discussing measurements, and has spawned at least one new school organization, the Elementary Garden Club, which Gunner said will help kids have ownership in the planning and care of the garden.

And the idea that started as an essay and grew into a garden is anything but dying away with the passing of a season, Furlong said. Instead, plans are under way to construct an adobe-style greenhouse similar to the one at the Massachusetts Avenue Project in Buffalo.

The structure, funded by a $2,000 grant from HSBC Bank, will be located on school property near the gardens.

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