Winning Big in the Lettuce Challenge at Garden Education Center

The Lettuce Challenge at the Garden Education Center on April 19, 2015.

Lettuce Challenge winners with First Selectman Peter Tesei. Credit: Leslie Yager

The competition was stiff. Twenty-two second grade homerooms in Greenwich Public Schools entered the Lettuce Challenge, a project of the PTA Council’s Green Schools Committee.

Judging took place at the Garden Education Center and awards were presented to the eager second graders.  Judges included Lisa Beebe of the Garden Education Center (GEC), Jeff Bischoff of Back 40 Mercantile, who gave a copies of his book The Boy, The Farmer to Greenwich grade schools, Cai Pandolfino of Green & Tonic, Patty Sechi of Greenwich Community Gardens and Pam Sloane of GIVE (Garden Initiative for Vegetables in Education).

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Deanna Novak, Director of Youth Education for GEC, and PTA Council Green School co-chair Julie DesChamps presented the awards to an enthusiastic group of green thumbed children. Afterward, First Selectman Peter Tesei congratulated the winners and talked about the value of learning to garden at an early age.

“I’m thrilled to see children, especially as young as second grade getting involved,” said Pam Sloane of Old Greenwich. Sloane taught French at Dolan Middle School for 23 years, and started both a gardening and cooking club. “It’s about learning to care for something other than yourself,” she said. “If you don’t care of it, it dies.”

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‘”It’s a hands-on approach. It’s a great way for kids to learn by doing,” said Patty Sechi of Greenwich Community Gardens, adding, “Not everything is instant gratification. It teaches you patience.”

Sloane said that in all the years she gardened with middle schoolers, it was always the sign of the first sprout that got kids the most excited. “When the sprout suddenly appears, they’d always say, ‘Look! It’s growing!'”

“When those seedlings emerge, it makes them realize they can have an impact on the environment,” Sechi said.

There are other benefits to gardening. “It’s also a time for them to talk to each other and they find themselves talking to the child next to them who may be different. Kids in a garden erase their differences,” said Sloane.

Sechi agreed. “It’s an equalizer,” she said.

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Mrs. DesChamps said that another important project of the Green Schools committee involves tackling litter and encouraging recycling in Greenwich Public Schools. She said several schools have their own gardens, including Western Middle School, ISD, Old Greenwich, Glenville, and Riverside, which added theirs last year.

Lettuce Challenge logo, Patty Sechi

Lettuce Challenge logo designed by Patty Sechi

“Parkway School just established a butterfly garden in conjunction with the Audubon,” DesChamps said.

Mrs. Novak said she was a lettuce newbie herself, but embraced the challenge.

“The judges had a very hard time deciding,” said Mrs. DesChamps. There were multiple award categories,  including “The Green Thumbs” awards for the most vigorous growers. Some winners received a $10 certificate for the May 2 annual gardeners market at the Garden Education Center.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day to think about gardening, and, following the awards presentation, Mrs. Novak invited all the families to a scavenger hunt in the Pinetum.

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Claire Weindling’s family congratulated her after she accepted a Lettuce Challenge award on behalf of the second grade Macri-You homeroom at International School at Dundee. Credit: Leslie Yager

The Lettuce Challenge.

The Lettuce Challenge.

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Lisa DesChamps, Deanna Novak, and First Selectman Peter Tesei with his children at the Lettuce Challenge awards at the Garden Education Center. Credit: Leslie Yager

Special guests included Dr. Jonathan Roberti, Hippocrates Health Institute Educator who demonstrated a pesticide-free and soil-less Aeroponic Gardening system. Also, Alexandra Moch from the Town of Greenwich had a demonstration on creative homemade potting mix.  Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 3.46.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 3.48.31 PM    Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 3.50.06 PMThe Garden Education Center is located at 130 Bible Street in Cos Cob.


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  • Patty Sechi

    Nice reporting, Leslie. This was a wonderful first Lettuce Challenge in Greenwich, hosted by GEC and Green Schools. It is so heartening to know how many 2nd graders this challenge reached. I know each year, this will be a meaningful and fun way for Greenwich youngsters to connect with nature and see the impact they can each have on the environment and the food that they eat.

  • Thanks for coming to our first Lettuce Challenge, Leslie. We’re excited to announce we’ll be offering the Lettuce Challenge again next year, as part of The Fairchild Challenge at GEC. We couldn’t have done it without the encouragement of all the local groups and judges taking part. Thanks for your kind words, Patty – well said!