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Sep 12, 2017 10:28 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eastport Elementary Students Host First 'Pay What You Can' Farmers Market To Benefit Veterans

Easport Elementary's farm. CHRIS PERAINO
Sep 12, 2017 1:15 PM

Eastport Elementary School students hosted their inaugural “Pay What You Can” Farmers Market on Saturday, bagging more than 450 pounds of recently harvested vegetables from their school garden and raising almost $500 for local veterans.“We grew everything in our ‘Green Dream,’” said Abigail Law, a third-grader at Eastport Elementary School, referring to the school’s garden.

Started five years ago, the garden, which is maintained by students and sits toward the front of the Montauk Highway building, now boasts 20 planting beds and 15 apple trees. Each grade at the school is responsible for planting and harvesting its own vegetables and fruits.

The students typically grow seven items—corns, beans, squash, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and apples—and plant seeds for the vegetables twice a year, once at the start of the school year and again in the late spring.

Usually, students donate their organically grown produce to the food pantry that operates from Lamb’s Chapel in Center Moriches. The goods up for purchase on Saturday were recently harvested, with students pulling some of the tomatoes from their vines earlier that day. Rather than donate the fruits of their labor from this past season, the students opted to hold a farmers market and raise money for local veterans.

“The kids do it all,” said Maria Plitt, a teacher at Eastport Elementary School who was in attendance for Saturday’s farmers market, noting that there is often friendly competition between the grades that results in larger harvests. “I think a little competition is good,” she added.

When the final numbers were tallied on Saturday, the students had sold 462 pounds of vegetables and collected $493. While a portion of the money will be set aside for new seeds and future garden maintenance, most of it will be donated to Suffolk County United Veterans in Yaphank, an agency that provides an assortment of services for local veterans, from training and employment opportunities to mental health assistance.

Students also will be donating fleece blankets to the veterans, using proceeds from the farmers market and a $1,500 grant that the district recently secured, according to school officials.

In addition to helping veterans, the students who get their hands dirty in the garden are benefiting on multiple levels, according to school officials. For example, they learn important math lessons, such as the definitions of area and perimeters, and study plant reproduction and genetics.

Perhaps most beneficial, according to administrators, is the fact they also learn how to grow their own food and the importance of healthier eating. Students are more inclined to eat vegetables that they labored to grow, Ms. Plitt explained, and participating in the process helps them understand that those items that are grown organically aren’t always perfect—like most of the mass-produced items that fill the aisles at chain grocery stores.

“Most kids think potatoes come from King Kullen,” Ms. Plitt said. “Eastport kids know they come from the ground.”

That lesson was not lost on fourth-grader Chase Vinch, who helped greet customers at Saturday’s farmers market on the elementary school grounds.

“Welcome to our market,” Chase said while surveying foot traffic. “Everything is organic.”

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