Lynbrook Elementary Turns Garden Plots Over to Families, Who Grow Food for Own Tables
When the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020, Lidia Gonzalez saw her roster of housekeeping clients drop from 11 to 0 almost immediately. Gonzalez, a mother of two including one student at Lynbrook Elementary School, knew she had to get creative to keep fresh food on the table for her family as the economy recovered.
Gonzalez wasn’t alone. Other Lynbrook ES families were also trying to think of ways to cut food costs, amid rising prices, and decreased hours and opportunities for work as COVID-19 spread across the country.
Lynbrook in Springfield has also been home to a garden for nine years and Rayanne Pirozzi, the PreK-6 school’s science resource teacher and environmental educator, saw an opportunity.
“Ever since we’ve been back in person this year, we’ve talked about people being hungry and what we could do about it as a school,” Pirozzi said. “The students did a lot of the initial planting and they took care of the garden for at least four months -- this truly started with the kids, we wanted to make it into a place that we could use to feed our community.”
In May, the school began preparations to hand the garden plots over to eight families to maintain and eventually pluck the produce for use on their dinner tables. They convened workshops roughly every two weeks led by two master gardener volunteers. They taught the families the best techniques for pruning, watering and ultimately harvesting the strawberries, watermelon, cucumbers, cantaloupes, squash, peppers, beans and tomatoes growing on the school plots.
“This is not a sit down and ask questions type of program,” Pirozzi said. “Everyone is involved -- we are in the garden, the families are learning and the kids themselves are digging, watering and looking for worms.”
Gonzalez and her 9-year-old son Rony, are some of the regular attendees at the workshops.
“I come because I want to learn about fruits and vegetables, and the best way to grow them at home,” Gonzalez says in Spanish, adding that anything coming from a personally cultivated garden is healthier and can also help cut overall household expenses.
Rosa Zelaya, a mom to two Lynbrook ES students, says she appreciates the school making green space available for families to tend to gardens.
Zelaya, whose family lives in an apartment, says she had previously tried to grow vegetables on her balcony but it didn’t really work out, aside from a few cucumbers. “Not enough sunlight”, she said.
Gabriela Lorenzo, another Lynbrook parent and mom to six children, says there are other benefits as well. As her children helped tend to the garden, they became more interested in eating fruits and vegetables.
“Every mom wants their kids to eat these kinds of things we’re growing,” Lorenzo said.
Lynbrook is one of four FCPS schools that had a partnership this year with the Fairfax Food Council, which sought to find new ways to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to county residents amid the pandemic. In 2020, many restaurants, who regularly contribute excess produce to food banks, had shuttered their doors or were no longer in a position to donate.
Two other elementary schools -- Stratford Landing in Alexandria, Belvedere in Falls Church -- and Woodson High School in Fairfax, also participated, Fairfax Food Council’s Urban Ag Group co-chair and Belvedere Elementary’s staff environmental educator Stacey Evers said.
Four other FCPS schools, Justice High School, Beech Tree Elementary School and Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church, as well as Mason Crest Elementary in Annandale, also grew produce for distribution this year through a separate partnership with a group known as Grow a Row, according to Evers.
Read more about the Lynbrook Elementary gardens in the Washington Post.