MARGATE – Every summer for the last 11 years, Margate students have been working in a courtyard garden at the Eugene A. Tighe School to plant, nurture and harvest a bounty that eventually benefits clients at the FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch.
The garden has been expanded over the years to include a series of beds and planters that feature fruits, vegetables and herbs. Teacher Jessica Cuevas facilitates the garden project, which includes a handful of members of the Margate Public School Garden Club who plan, design, plant, water, feed and harvest crops throughout summer. They even compost weeds to nourish the soil and plants for next year’s crop. They meet every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. to weed and thin the crops, which at this time of year include lots of zucchini, peppers, eggplant and yellow beans.
Seventh grader Kallan Tripician has been participating in the garden club since she was in first grade.
“I come every summer when I don’t have gymnastics,” the championship gymnast said. “I come twice a week for the garden and the farmers market.”
Kallan explained that students from all grade levels participate in some way toward the garden’s success.
“Some of the Ross (William H. Ross Elementary School) children come during their lunches to plant, and we had a planting workshop,” Kallan said. “We have a sprinkler system to water, but we still have to water the potted plants by hand.”
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Kallan said kale was the first crop harvested, and now zucchini ise flourishing.
“We’re just starting to pick eggplant and yellow beans now,” she said.
Kallan said Cuevas takes the produce home to “clean it up” before transporting it the next day to the Margate Community Farmers Market held Thursday mornings in the parking lot at Steve & Cookies By The Bay on Monroe and Amherst avenues.
The students show up bright and early to set up their table and umbrella and display their bounty.
“People are welcome to take as much or as little as they want, and then they can donate as much or as little as they want,” she said. “All of the donations go to the FoodBank.”
Kallan keeps coming back year after year because she “likes to know I’m helping people that need food,” she said.
Kallan’s mom, Karen Tripician, who also helps out with the garden program, said Cuevas gives each student $5 from the donations collected to go around the farmers market and purchase as much produce as he or she can.
“It gives them an idea of how much fresh foods costs. Then, we take that fresh food to the FoodBank,” Tripician said.
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Megan Dougherty, 14, a Tighe School graduate and Atlantic City High School freshman whose family is in the restaurant business, has been involved since the third grade.
“It’s a good project. It’s nice to support the FoodBank and help people understand the benefits of growing your own food, buying fresh and eating local,” she said.
The courtyard includes some fruits, including two fig trees, blueberry bushes and a grape vine. There are also four vegetable beds, and an area for perennials.
In one corner of the courtyard is a Peace Garden designed with rocks, pebbles, a water fountain and benches made by the teachers.
“We created the Peace Garden to make a space where students can come when they need a moment to reflect or solve a conflict. We believe that peace starts in each one of us,” Cuevas said.
There’s a Peace Pole planted in the garden with the words, “May peace prevail on Earth,” in several languages.
The Artsy Upcycle Club helped to make the signs that grace the Peace Garden and mark the garden beds. Under the center garden that contains mostly perennial flowers and plants, there’s a scaled replica of an Eagles Nest, and a Fairy Garden complete with a garden gnome.
Cuevas also participates in an initiative at the Atlantic City Boys & Girls Club that’s funded by Cookie Till’s Work in Progress Foundation, which teaches children how to cook using seasonal produce. The summer camp meets in the afternoon at the restaurant to expose children to a healthy way of eating.
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“We teach them how to cook with what’s growing in season, teach food safety and nutrition. They help the chef prepare the dish and then they sit down to enjoy it,” Cuevas said.
On Wednesday, they made quesadillas stuffed with onions, peppers and zucchini.
"The kids loved it," Cuevas said.