On Friday, April 4, students from Point Road School in Little Silver delivered grocery bags, drawn with their personalized Earth Day messages, to Sickles Market where they will be on display until Earth Day is celebrated on April 22. In return for their artistic talents and important environmental messages, Bob Sickles will give each of the 450 students their own lettuce seedling to plant at home.
The Earth Day tradition started five years ago when Point Road School’s Green Team approached Bob Sickles, asking if the market would take part in the school’s Earth Day celebration. The idea – called the Earth Day Groceries Project, a national program – was for Sickles to provide schoolchildren with plain brown shopping bags, which they would decorate with drawings and environmental messages, such as “Save Our Planet” or “Reuse This Bag.” The market would then use the bags at checkouts on Earth Day, spreading the ‘green’ messages to its customers.
Sickles recognized the importance of educating young children about the environment and learning at an early age about the benefits of food gardening at home. Wanting to contribute more to this Earth Day effort, and to help foster in the students a love and respect for the land and environment, Sickles gives each student his or her own small lettuce seedling in a recyclable coconut-fiber pot, which they can plant, nurture and grow in the family garden.
In addition, Sickles has planted more seedlings in the school’s courtyard, which after 60 days, are harvested for the school’s “Salad Harvest Day” lunch.
“Gardening is a hobby with many rewards,” explained Sickles, who is the son of a farmer. “I don’t expect all of the children to take up gardening, but a few will see the entire loop of the cycle and that will capture their hearts into adulthood. It’s also my way of sending each child a thank you for their environmental thoughtfulness,” said Sickles. “The Earth is our home, our garden, our food. We want to support local efforts to keep it beautiful and continue to share the Good Stuff,” he said.
Susan Murray, a school parent and waste efficiency consultant with Waste Not Solutions, and Pamela Albert Devine, the school’s principal, initiated the first collaborative effort between Sickles and the school. Art teacher Dale Dvorak oversaw the art project and supervised the huge task of ensuring that every child, K-4, decorated a bag.
According to the Earth Day Groceries Project, the 21-year-old program is one of the largest and most well established educational projects on the Internet. It is a nonprofit, grassroots effort. The project, which began in 1994 with 43 schools, today has more than 1,000 schools participating.
As in the recently published National Gardening Association report, Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America, food gardening in American households has grown from 36 million in 2008 to 42 million in 2013, an increase of 17 percent. The report found that more households with children participating in food gardening increased by 25 percent during that same time period.
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