By Eli MacKinnon
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Students at Park Slope’s P.S. 107 and Bay Ridge’s P.S. 102 are officially in their salad days.
Innovative urban gardening initiatives at the two schools, as well as the young green thumbs who keep them going, have earned the praise of first lady Michelle Obama in a pair of two-page spreads in her new book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.”
The home-grower-in-chief invited five students from each school to help her promote her book on Tuesday morning’s “Good Morning America.”
After an introductory “Brooklyn in the house!” from ABC anchor Robin Roberts, the kids helped Obama demonstrate seed-starting techniques in small terracotta planting pots and sampled fresh salad and blueberry bundt cake.
The first lady commended the students of P.S. 102 for their resourceful use of space in an urban schoolyard on 72nd Street that, at least on its face, doesn’t have many horticultural prospects.
“They’re doing some real nontraditional gardening and showing people across the country that you don’t need to have a big patch of grass to grow delicious vegetables,” she said. “You guys are doing a terrific job, we’re so proud of you all.”
According to Margaret Sheri, P.S. 102’s parent coordinator and one of the leading forces behind its gardening efforts, the school’s spread in “American Grown” highlights some of the city-friendly gardening hacks that students and teachers use to bolster vegetable growth in the concrete jungle.
Sheri, who also appeared on Tuesday’s “Good Morning America,” says a few of the school’s featured tricks include the use of elevated growing containers designed to separate plants from Brooklyn’s polluted soil and “woolly pockets,” hanging rows of soil pouches that can turn a chain link fence into a vertical garden.
The book spread also lauds P.S. 102’s “scratch-and-sniff garden,” a fragrant herb garden that’s designed to engage the school’s three classes of vision-impaired students.
Like P.S. 102, P.S. 107, on 8th Avenue and 14th Street, didn’t have a blade of grass to its name when it decided to start a school garden in 2007, but Michele Israel, co-chair and founder of the school’s Sunshine Garden, now tells stories of passersby begging to take home a bunch of the schoolyard’s “incredible chard” on summer harvest nights.
Israel thinks it’s the two Brooklyn schools’ common determination to transcend circumstance that earned them the first lady’s attention.
“Neither one of us had any green space, so we managed to have this successful school garden without any green space. We overcame numerous challenges with scaffolding and pests and that tornado,” she said. “That’s a big piece of the story in the book, that we survived despite the elements.”
Along with stories of community and school gardens across the country, the first lady’s book chronicles her own garden on the White House’s South Lawn, which she started in 2009 as part of an effort to curtail obesity in America and encourage healthy eating habits. She said on Tuesday that she believes if kids get hands-on involvement with growing vegetables, they’ll be more excited to eat them.
Israel’s experience with P.S. 107's Sunshine Garden has already borne out that belief.
She related the testimony that the mother of one of the school’s former vegetable-haters gave after her daughter helped to grow an indoor crop of hydroponic lettuce: “[The parent] said, 'My kid doesn’t eat lettuce — but she does now!' And it’s true. This kid would not touch lettuce but now she eats it all the time; it’s a complete turnaround.”
According to Sheri, the first lady greeted each of the 10 students who appeared on “Good Morning America” Tuesday individually before the live broadcast.
“They were very nervous at the prospect of meeting her, but she was very warm and engaging and easy,” she said.
Said Aiden Israel, the 10-year-old son of Ms. Israel and one of the featured students on “Good Morning America”: “It was the first time I got to see the first lady and it was a really good experience for me. I want to do it again actually.”
Five fifth-graders from P.S 102 appeared on Tuesday’s “Good Morning America,” and the featured students from P.S. 107 ranged in age from 7 to 10.