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Easterly Parkway International Garden

Families tend to the gardenAs stillness blanketed Easterly Parkway Elementary over summer break, one corner of the school grounds still bustled with activity.


Easterly families from Guatemala spent the muggy months planting and tending a vegetable garden, reviving a disused plot next to the playground with the district’s blessing. Their efforts across seven beds yielded not only ayote, a Guatemalan squash from their own seeds, but also cabbages, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, zucchinis, cilantro and other fresh produce for their kitchens.


“I love it,” said State High Spanish teacher Clarisa Capone, who initiated the project and worked alongside the families throughout the summer. “I’m very proud of the work we’ve done. We came together so quickly. Just to see the smiles on their faces, how happy they are, has been wonderful.”


It all started last spring when an Easterly Parkway parent, Mary Beth Williams, noticed the garden beds were empty and asked Capone if anything could be done with them to help school families. Capone proposed an idea to the district’s International and Immigration Issues workgroup: Guatemalan families living next to the school in apartments without room for gardens could revive the beds. The workgroup liked the plan, paving the way for Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Danielle Yoder’s approval.


Capone then turned to the Spanish-speaking students in her English as a Second Language class.


“Most of my students are from Guatemala,” Capone said. “I asked them what they would think if we had a garden where we could have plants from Guatemala and other plants over the summer, and they got excited. They said to me, ‘You need to talk to our parents.’ ”


Families tend to the gardenHeeding the suggestion, Capone organized a meeting with the help of Alix Croswell, the district’s family liaison/bilingual educator. Their proposal was met with enthusiasm. Families created a text group for coordinating labor, and the garden was off and running.


From there, many hands pitched in. Preparing the beds right after Memorial Day turned out to be a garden party, with husbands and children joining in to clear weeds and till soil with tools donated by Capone and Croswell. Williams brought over loads of compost and also enlisted the help of Leslie Pillen, the associate director for food and farm services with the Student Farm at Penn State. Pillen provided plants as well as growing tips, such as properly spacing plants within rows and tying tomato plants so they grow straight.


Once started, the garden thrived under the care of a cadre of 11 women who watered, weeded and divvied up the proceeds. One regular was Magdalena Sanchez. Speaking through Capone, she said families wanted to participate to help each other and have the chance to enjoy fresh vegetables. Pulling thorny thistles wasn’t fun, but cabbage for salads, tomatoes for tamales sauce, and zucchini and green onions for caldo de pollo, a hearty chicken soup, made up for the trouble.


Looking ahead, Capone said families will continue to harvest during the fall on the condition they work after the Community Education Extended Learning after-school program closes at 6 p.m. The garden’s future, she said, depends on conversations with Principal Meredith Henderson, teachers and the families themselves. If there’s interest in resuming the cooperative next spring, Capone hopes classes could contribute as an educational experience.


Families tend to the garden“We could work together,” she said. “Students could plant with the families, and then the families could take care of the garden in the summer as long as they get the produce.”


By Chris Rosenblum
Photos by Clarisa Capone