How did it all begin?
Hudson Valley Seed began in December of 2012 with planning meetings at Sargent Elementary School in Beacon. At that time Ava Bynum, now Hudson Valley Seed's Executive Director, had just finished designing and running a curriculum-integrated garden program at The Garden Road School in Peekskill, New York. As a classroom teacher trying to start a garden program, Ava had encountered the difficulties that almost all schools face when trying to start a school garden. Most produce grew when school was not in session; there was limited funding for supplies; and there was no time in the school day for gardening. Based on the growing network of Farm to School programs, Ava was able to bring students out to the garden during class time to complete math, science, reading and other academic work while also learning about nutrition, nature and more. Gretchen Larson-Wolbrink was a dedicated Sargent parent who had been working on getting the school garden back up and running. Gretchen and Ava pursued programing with Sargent, and began programing in the Spring of 2013 with fifty-six students learning in the garden every week. The model was simple and innovative. To avoid burdening teachers with more work and to make sure the program would be sustainable over time, educators would come into classrooms from outside the school to partner with public school teachers to administer weekly garden education classes. Every lesson would be aligned to New York State's Common Core Curriculum to ensure that teachers would be comfortable dedicating an hour every week to garden time. Because classes could spend so much time in the garden learning, behavior change and school-wide systems change around healthy eating and experiential learning would be measurable and noticeable. By the end of the first Spring of garden time, the rest of the K-2 teachers at Sargent wanted the program as well. Starting in the fall of 2013, Gretchen and Ava added the remaining K-2 classes at Sargent, as well as a first grade class at J.V. Forrestal Elementary School and a first grade class at South Avenue Elementary School. Lou Ann Joyce and Sue Lee had agreed to pilot the Hudson Valley Seed program to help other teachers feel comfortable bringing it to their classrooms. That Spring, the Garrison Union Free School also joined the Hudson Valley Seed program. All garden education classes were still being administered by Gretchen and Ava, with a total of 476 students visiting their school garden every week. By now Hudson Valley Seed also had obtained its 501(c)3 status and was being governed by a Board of Directors. Ava had stepped into the role of Executive Director and decided with the Board to take a big leap for the 2014-2015 school year. In August Education Director Susan Hereth joined the Hudson Valley Seed team, followed by four garden educators. Starting in September of 2014, 1,576 students visited their garden every week. These students included every K-2 class in the Beacon City School District, K-2 classes at Temple Hill Academy in Newburgh, and K-4 classes at the Garrison School in Putnam County. The school year was a huge success. In the Spring Fostertown Elementary School became the second participating school in the Newburgh City School District. By June over 13,000 students were on Hudson Valley Seed's waiting list. Today Hudson Valley Seed is continuing to grow and expand, reaching to eventually partner with all interested schools, parents, community members and students who want to learn, grow and be nourished in school gardens.