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Sustainable Agriculture Program Nets Bountiful Harvest

As the long summer days come to a close, Gratia Lee, director of Loomis' Sustainable Agriculture Program summarized some of the many activities that took place through the Island's busy growing season.

"We've had a hugely successful season in the gardens this year," commented Gratia, who has spearheaded and expanded a number of agricultural projects since her arrival on campus in 2014.

Crops produced in the Ag Program this year included onions, basil, spinach, field greens, beans, Swiss chard, kale, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red currants, beets, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, garlic, mint, cabbage, cucumbers, rhubarb, grapes, five different varieties of tomatoes, and various seasoning herbs.

When school is out, there are fewer hands to help with the work, and Gratia is grateful for the help of 19 students this summer, including student volunteers and other students who fulfilled their workjob requirements for the 2017–18 school year. Summer intern Chantal Fauteaux and a small number of faculty members who were on campus rounded out Gratia's hard-working team of gardeners.

"I couldn't have done it without them," Gratia acknowledged.

In addition, students in Loomis' five-week Summer Program rotated in small groups through the agriculture program. They learned about food security and where food comes from, according to Gratia, and helped to tend the gardens and the chickens and goats that live on campus. Summer Program students also learned to make red currant jam, mint lemonade, and green kale smoothies with some ingredients grown on campus.

The majority of the harvest goes to school community members who pay to join the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, said Gratia, who is pleased that there was enough produce beyond the CSA distribution to make a significant donation to the Windsor Food Bank in August. Additional surplus was sold at a student-run farmer's market on campus during Opening Days. Sales at the farmer's market directed $150 toward the Ag Program budget.

More than a dozen Loomis faculty, staff, and their families also maintained their own personal gardening plots in Loomis' on-campus community gardens. In exchange for use of these fertile plots, Loomis gardeners assume a one-week rotation caring for the chickens during the summer. The Loomis community gardeners, who cultivated a variety of produce, herbs, and flowers, gathered one evening before the start of classes to celebrate their harvest and share dishes made from garden-grown ingredients.

This fall and winter, Gratia looks forward to devoting time to the Ag Program's other projects with 18 ag-proctors this year. Some of the projects include creating a new, safer space for the school's two honeybee hives on campus; building an herbal tea garden and apple cider press as part of the Gilchrist Environmental Fellowship program; continuing a project that brings sustainable agriculture curriculum to local elementary schools; and further developing aquaponics in the school's greenhouse.