School Yard Garden in Inner City DC

by Martha's Table
butterfly in garden
butterfly in garden

For the past 2 years, the kids at Martha’s Table have been using their green thumbs in the flourishing “Not-So-Secret Garden”.  Hidden behind a wall of latticed planters, lies a beautiful garden full of growing vegetables, flowers, and herbs.  As you pass through the lattice fence of ivy, under the hanging pots overflowing with flowers, you find yourself amid tall growing stalks of sunflowers, enormous zucchini plants with their massive leaves and blooming orange flowers, tomato plants creeping taller by the day, various herb bushes, and even a sprouting watermelon plant.  Such an entrancing environment is only the first step to intrigue the kids at Martha’s Table to learn about plants, gardening, and healthy eating. 

From the garden, the children have learned about all sorts of plants, like growing tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, parsley, and basil to name a few, and have watched them all grow in the garden.  The kids started by planting seeds in the classrooms, and then brought the sprouts out to be planted in the garden.  After weeks of tending the garden, the kids can see what their small sprouts have become.  When I asked the kids in the pre-school class what they have learned, they all chimed, “for plants to grow they need water and sun and then they grow and have roots and stems.”  And they were right! When the vegetables are ready to be harvested, the teachers will help them pick the vegetables and bring them to the kitchen to use in their lunches.  The kids look forward to picking the vegetables, Aaron from the pre-school says, “we can eat them and give them to our mothers.”  The excitement of eating the vegetables they have grown themselves encourages the kids to try vegetables they may not have had before.  The garden is one of the great ways the kids are learning that being healthy can be fun!

Although the garden is becoming abundant with the seasonal vegetables, the children and staff at Martha’s Table are eager to see what the garden can still become.  While everyone is extremely proud of the garden and its success, they believe there is a lot of potential for the garden to continue to grow, expand, and improve.  Those at Martha’s Table hope that one day the garden can be filled with more planters, making room for more vegetables for the children to eat—and learn more about healthy eating.  As the garden continues to expand, so does the experience that the children take from it.  The children are excited to learn about the vegetables, and Martha’s Table is incredibly proud to be able to have them growing right outside their classrooms.

Spring is just around the corner and Martha's Table is preparing of another successful year of planting and harvesting. We are also gearing up to teach the children in our programs about the importance of health and nutrition. 

April 10th is our start date for the 2011 Garden Project.  On Sunday, April 10th volunteers from our community will come and help prepare the garden for planting this spring. 

Our new food program manger, Justin Peregoy describes his vision for the 2011 Garden Project. "The garden project is going to focus on education.  The children and teachers in the daycare are going to be more involved this year." 

On April 10th the volunteers will get the garden in shape for the children and teachers in the daycare program to start planting their seedlings.  They will work on projects like; painting the planter boxes bright colors, re-meshing the inside of the planters and taking out all the old soil and replacing it with new soil.

The volunteers and children in the daycare program are very excited to get started on their new projects. 

Martha's Table can not wait to see how the plants will grow into the summer.

As reported in our last update, we implemented a new garden curriculum this past summer, educating the children in our educations programs from 3 to 7 years old.  Our farm and garden intern worked tirelessly with the teachers and staff to create a usable curriculum filled with photos and and garden experiences. 

Just to give you a sense of what the 6-7 year olds were learning about - the following lessons plans were taught throughout the summer.

  • My Five Senses: Introduction and Taste
  • My Five Senses: Smell and Sight
  • My Five Senses: Touch and Hearing
  • My Five Senses: Review
  • My Five Senses: Living vs. Non-Living, Growth of a Plant
  • Transition to Plants and Healthy Eating: Introduction to Food Pyramid
  • Transition to Plants and Healthy Eating: Healthy Eating
  • Final Garden Lesson

The final lessons included a trip to the super market, vegetable cutting and a cooking demonstration by Demetri from food from the garden and super market.  The kids were able taste what they had picked from the garden and supermarket once Demetri was done with his lesson.

Now the garden is all wrapped up for the winter but we are looking forward to another successful year educating the kids about healthy eating so they can become the next generation of nutrition advocates.

See more updates on our new website


Planting season is among us again, and Martha's Table is kicking off spring with the children in our pre-school classrooms. The Food Program Manager, Demetri Recachinas and the Children's Program teachers have created a curriculum that suits the needs of our children from 3 to 7 years old. The Food Program has also implemented a new facet to the Garden, a new Farm and Garden intern, Laura.

Recently, we interviewed Laura to see how the summer is shaping up for the pre-school aged children in our all day daycare program and the children in our all day Summer Camp for elementary age children.

Q: Tell me more about what you do specifically with the garden.

A: “My job is to develop a rough rubric and lesson plans for the kids to learn from and work with the garden. We are forming lesson plans for three different groups: 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7 years of age. For example, the lesson plan for the 2-3 year olds is based on the 5 senses, with one lesson for each sense. First, we have an introduction class, explaining how plants grow, and measuring the plants to watch their growth over time. That is the first lesson. Then, we have a lesson about taste—we use sugar and salt water to demonstrate different flavors, and show the kids how plants taste different as well—some are sweet, some are bitter, some are juicy, etc. We also focus on feeling, like the texture of the leaves, and smell, such as the mint leaves and thyme. Our goal is to help the kids distinguish between different vegetables and also to see where their food comes from and the work that goes into producing them.”

Q: Do you teach the classes, or just form the lesson plans?

A: “Yes, I have taught some of the classes, along with Demetri and the teachers here. But I’ve only taught the 2-3 year olds. They actually get easily distracted but they love to water the plants, pick the kale, and play in the dirt. They really enjoy getting their hands dirty and working with the plants directly. I’m interested to see how the older kids respond to the lessons and work with the garden as well.”

Q: Have you cooked anything from the vegetable garden yet?

A: “Yes, they have cooked the kale that the kids picked and served it to them for dinner. Granted, it is a small amount of kale, compared to the huge bundles the kitchen usually receives, but it is really cool for the kids to see that they are eating the food that they hand-picked themselves from the garden right outside.”

mint tastes good!
mint tastes good!

Martha's Table's first season cultivating the school yard garden was a success! Students were able to plant, cultivate, harvest and learn about the plants and herbs. We had plenty of visitors to our garden including, Sam Kass, White House Chef and Alice Waters, Chef, Author of Edible School Yard Garden and head of the Chez Panisse Foundation. This past November, the Obama Family visited Martha's Table. They were not able to see the garden but Mrs. Obama expressed interest in coming back to see out progress.

Martha's Table staff and kids prepared the garden for winter to create a successful school yard garden next season. We planted Winter Rye. This is a great cover crop that minimize winter soil erosion, add two seasons of plant growth for soil improvement in one year, and increase beneficial microbiological activity through plant growth in poor soils.

We can not wait to show you the progress this coming spring.

Happy Planting!

pick the peppers from the base
pick the peppers from the base
learning what mint can be used for, spice!
learning what mint can be used for, spice!
Winter Rye with snow
Winter Rye with snow
pick the peppers from the base
pick the peppers from the base

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Organization Information

Martha's Table

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Kimberly Lyons
Washington, DC United States

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