Shady Side Academy harvesting its garden

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Students at Shady Side Academy will head to the fields this year for physical education, but it won't be for traditional activities such as football and track.

Instead, many of the students will go to the small farm that students, faculty and other volunteers have planted on the Fox Chapel campus.

"The garden had been something that they had wanted to get going and had been talking about," said Derek Wagler, science department chairman at Shady Side Academy Senior School. "Then we just decided to move forward. It was a project that figuratively and literally was organic."

Mr. Wagler moved to the area last year from Madison, Wis., where he and his wife, Tina Nussbaum Wagler, had been involved with farming. They partnered with Leah Powers, a science teacher at the school, to plan the garden last spring.

"We didn't get things planted until June 2, which is really quite late for the season," said Ms. Powers, who recruited several of her chemistry students and members of the environmental club for planting day.

Since the farm was created after the school year ended, they relied on volunteers to maintain it over the summer. Ms. Nussbaum Wagler was hired as a part-time director to coordinate the efforts, including scheduling volunteers and produce sales.

"We have a farmers market on campus every Wednesday during the summer and fall months, so it was a natural for us to sell our produce along with the other farmers," she said. The proceeds were reinvested into the farm.

"We started with really very little and have a lot of equipment we still need to purchase," Ms. Nussbaum Wagler said.

The school cafeteria also has used the produce in school menus, another bonus of the farm.

Ms. Powers said the crops planted include basil and other herbs, tomatoes, squash, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, zucchini, kale and pumpkins.

Tom Cangiano, Shady Side Academy president, said the school has multiple goals for the farm.

"We have such remarkable outdoor space on our campus that we have been really working hard to push our students outside, to incorporate ways to use this space and to take our students outside. The farm is one way to achieve this," he said.

Mr. Cangiano said the farm also will be used in the science and physical education curriculum and to increase awareness schoolwide about food production and sustainability.

"It is important for children to know about where their food comes from. We cannot only increase awareness but have them get out to have hands-on experiences in growing their own food," he said.

Now that the farm is under way, there are lots of plans for its development. Ms. Powers and some of her students did initial soil testing in the spring semester, studies she hopes to continue and expand upon this year. She said they also hope to use seeds from this year's produce for future planting.

Physical education students are building a fence to deter deer.

Mr. Cangiano said despite the late start, they have been "blown away" by the amount the garden has produced this year.

"To see the bounty of this small farm has been amazing," he said. "And our food service folks have been wonderful about adapting our menus around this bounty. It will be great to see what happens when we continue to expand it."

education - neigh_north

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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