Growing Up Green – Horticulturist Develops School Gardening

Growing Up Green – Horticulturist Develops School Gardening

Mindy Rubenstein

Mindy Rubenstein is a freelance journalist who lives in Atlanta with her husband and children. She also serves as the publisher/editor of Nishei, a magazine for Jewish women and children.

Several Atlanta schools are incorporating gardening into the curriculum, thanks to a local expert.

“Kids today live in a world where their food magically shows up clean and neat at the grocery store,” said Hadassah Ezoory, a horticulturist specializing in food gardens. She now oversees the gardening programs at Torah Day School of Atlanta, Chaya Mushka Children’s House Preschool, and CMCH Elementary and Middle School.

Hadassah Ezoory helps children at Jewish schools grow their own lettuce and other produce.
Hadassah Ezoory helps children at Jewish schools grow their own lettuce and other produce.

Through her programs, hundreds of children experience the process from planting to watching the growth to eating the results.

“She’s just fantastic with the kids,” said Linda Rabinowitz, the general studies principal at TDSA.

Children recently grew lettuce, which they brought home in a cup. Kindergartners could be seen nibbling on the small, dark green leaves like they were candy — proud that they had grown the treats.

The impetus for the TDSA garden came from a group of parents and grandparents who thought it would be a great thing to have, Rabinowitz said. The garden was started in 2008 and was revived in recent years, she said.

The children go out for scheduled times, and it’s a regular specialty, like art or physical education.

The program incorporates multiple subjects, Rabinowitz said, as the children learn about insects, planting, soil, the amount of water needed and what can grow together. They also check the lettuce for bugs, wash and cut it up, then eat it.

“They have been able to eat the fruits of their labors,” she said.

Dassie New, who directs Chaya Mushka Children’s House Preschool and CMCH Elementary and Middle School, thought the program would be a good complement to the Montessori-style curriculum. “The children look forward to their hands-on science-in-the-garden class each week,” she said. “Being healthy and natural is a focus at CMCH, so to complement the fresh produce ordered each week for snack, the children can grow some of their own produce.”

Ezoory said she teaches students that “gardening is a good deal.”

“Every time we grow something, there is enough to eat plenty and enough to replant to create a whole new crop,” she said.

Many do not notice, for example, all the seeds within a pepper.

“When we plant a packet of pepper seeds, we may be able to harvest 100 peppers. Then it takes only two of those peppers’ seeds to grow another 100 peppers — and we have still eaten all 100 peppers,” she said.

During each hour she is in the garden with the kids, she tries to have them be part of the process so they can experience its success and realize “it’s not magic.”

She uses the hands-on time with the children to teach them the science behind their experience. She does experiments, investigations and critical thinking exercises to help them understand the ecosystem of their garden. They learn to keep a balance of healthy organisms while gardening organically.

“It also entices them to eat healthfully,” she said, noting that they harvest salad vegetables, wash them and often enjoy eating them raw.

Ezoory grew up in Phoenix, an area known for its desert climate.

“People think it’s not the best place to garden,” she said, but she discovered otherwise. “Add water. It’s the best place to grow: a warm, sterile environment.”

One day, around age 14, she started to dig at the pure rock in her back yard. She added soil and planted some corn, cucumber, tomato and carrot seeds there, and they grew. From that moment, she was hooked.

“For years in my back yard I was gardening as a hobby,” said Ezoory, whose yard is full of all sorts of fruits and vegetables. She has pomegranate, fig and apple trees, as well as a vegetable garden that she tends with her husband, Ron, and their children.

She attended the University of Arizona, where she started as a premed major. After shadowing a doctor, she realized that was not the career path she wanted, so she switched to plant sciences in the School of Horticulture.

“The plants were so pleasant to work with,” she said.

While living in Israel after college, she started a potted plant business for people’s porches. The Israelis realized that growing things like cucumbers in pots beautified their porches and was less expensive than buying them, Ezoory said.

She was trained as a doula in Israel and worked for several years helping women deliver babies naturally. Now she is busy working with the fruits of her labor in gardening.

She works four days a week at the schools, getting the kids out into the fresh air and into their flourishing gardens.

“I really love working with the children in the gardens,” Ezoory said.

The program has been so well received that TDSA is working on a plan to upgrade the garden this year.

“We just think it’s a really great experience for the kids,” Rabinowitz said.

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