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‘You’re part of something bigger’

Garden offers kids lessons that go beyond plants.

Adjacent to Moorestown’s Mary Roberts Elementary School is a vegetable garden that teaches students educational concepts and how to eat healthy.

The garden came from the youth service organization Live Civilly, which engages kids 4 and up in service activities to help improve their communities in the areas of nutritional and educational outreach and life skills development.

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Live Civilly’s community-supported garden program uses science, technology and environmental and mathematical concepts to lead youth and families in gardening initiatives that teach physical science concepts associated with biology and plant life that results from fruits and vegetables grown. 

Besides Roberts Elementary, Live Civilly has donated garden beds to Moorestown’s Upper Elementary and William Allen Middle schools and at a spot on the 300 block of Camden Avenue.

In 2019, Roberts got $2,000 from the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Grant to start No Food Left Behind. The conservation program helps prevent uneaten and unopened meals from entering the waste stream by assisting students with sorting and saving what they don’t use. 

The grant is funded by the PSEG Foundation and supports 34 on-the-ground, sustainability and capacity-building projects in state schools and districts.  With leftover money, Roberts Elementary has kept its vegetable garden intact by adding upgrades such as pollinator bins, a bench and rain barrels.

Paraprofessional Sally Wilson and first grade teacher Rosemary Anderson said residents and families help care for the garden during the summer.

“It’s kind of been a collective of help from people in different areas of the school to help support,” Anderson explained. “ … It’s pulling a lot of resources,  but I think the beauty of working in Moorestown is you’re surrounded by people who care.”

Anderson noted that the elementary school has applied for a separate grant that, if awarded, will be used for necessities such as a mulched-out area near the garden, mulch along the bottom of the building and pollinator plants.

“The idea of getting these pollinator beds is kind of, I think, a learning experience for the kids,” Anderson said. “In the grant, we put in for signage to kind of explain what some of the pollinators are doing and how they support the garden and the vegetables itself.”

Vegetables from the Roberts’ garden are also collected and donated weekly to Moorestown’s First Baptist Church.

“I feel like it’s really been a full-circle experience for the kids,” Anderson observed.

She also explained that for next year, the Moorestown Education Association (MEA) will apply for a grant to pay for a heavy-duty sign that will read, “Roberts Garden.” 

“You can get a grant through the NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) if it has to do with community outreach,” Anderson advised. “Because the vegetables are being donated into the community and it’s being worked here by the school …  we’re able to apply for that grant.”

The garden has an assortment of tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, herbs, peppers and plants and Anderson praised Wilson’s dedication in keeping the garden running for students.

“She will never give herself enough credit, but she really is an intricate piece,” Anderson said. “This is why Roberts is, in my opinion, a phenomenal place to be, to work, to live in this area.”

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