The photos you see were taken at the Shelton Intermediate School Butterfly Garden.
One Shelton Intermediate School teacher said in order for his students to really grasp how their food is grown they would have to be exposed to and understand the role of pollinators.
The Intermediate School’s Gardening Enrichment Program leader, Eric Wolf, said he would like to move away from being known for just growing vegetables with his class and on to maintaining a schoolyard habitat where students can gain environmental knowledge.
With that goal in mind and the help from volunteers from all over the community, Wolf’s idea to create a butterfly garden at the Intermediate School came to fruition in June of this year.
“They can understand and I can teach them about the vegetables, but until they’re seeing the missing link, which is the pollinators, all day long, it can be kind of hard to capture that,” said Wolf.
After explaining that learning to grow vegetables was “the easiest point of entry into gardening” and that’s why he began teaching his kids about aquaponics back in 2016, Wolf said he hopes his passion for sharing this knowledge with students will further the growth of the school’s innovative curriculum.
According to theaquaponicsource.com, the simplest definition for this innovative type of farming is the combination of aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, the soil-less growing of plants, into one system.
The fish waste serves as an organic fertilizer for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.
As a product of their studies, Wolf’s class has grown cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and pumpkins, but he says there’s a definite lack of connection or understanding to how those are actually happening.
“Pollinators are a huge part of not only being able to grow things that look pretty, but also food,” said Wolf, who annually teaches approximately 160-180 students about seeds, composting, winter gardening, aquaponics, and the importance of supporting local food resources.
Headmaster of the Intermediate School Ken Saranich said the new butterfly garden is a perfect fit for the school.
“The butterfly garden is a wonderful addition to SIS. It was the best next step of learning and beautification for our school community”
If you build it they will come
Initially, Wolf was skeptical about calling the new space a community garden out of the fear that people would think it was meant for anyone to come and plant their own plants.
His way of thinking changed when he realized how the term accurately described the process of the garden being constructed.
“It really is a community garden, not in the sense that people are coming and planting their own plants, but it’s been built by the community literally with donations, fund-raising, volunteer efforts, and advice that I receive from Beardsley and the Monahans at Stone Gardens Farm and resources I get from them as well,” said Wolf. “It really is the embodiment of the community.”
Wolf said that he’s wanted to construct a butterfly garden for a while now, but just hasn’t been able to do it. He said that last year one of his classes found caterpillars in the garden and ultimately watched them grow into butterflies before releasing them.
This marked the beginning of turning Wolf’s ambitions of creating a butterfly garden into a reality.
Wolf recently attended and spoke at one of the Olde Ripton Garden Club meetings where he updated the members on what they were working on and what they wanted to accomplish at the Intermediate School.
This got the attention of the garden club.
President of the Olde Ripton Garden Club Renee Protomastro said the the group was inspired by Wolf’s aspirations to teach the students about pollination and where food comes from.
“Whatever they need we’re more than happy to support the program,” said Protomastro, who explained that the garden club donated $500 to the efforts at SIS. “Eric is really our motivation. He does remarkable things with those kids.”
The Olde Ripton Garden club also donated 75 city flowers from its annual plant sale to Wolf and his class, as well as $100 to Perry Hill, which is doing something comparable to the Intermediate School community garden.
The garden club were not the only community members to get in on the action. A former student of Wolf, Kyle Young, is a bright young rising sophomore at Shelton High who had an idea on how he could get involved in the project.
“Kyle approached me and asked if he could do a project for Eagle Scouts involving the community garden,” said Wolf. “From there, we decided on creating an informational kiosk sign.”
Wolf said he and Young spent all fall and winter 2016 meeting and designing the sign and planning. Young secured the funding needed to do the job.
A true ‘community garden’
On June 13, 2017, the time came to finally construct the new garden and Young brought along 40 volunteers to help complete the job.
“We figured why not turn it into a community garden day,” said Wolf.
From there, mulch was laid out, the dimensions of garden were created, and Young’s peers helped to build four benches for visitors to sit on.
“I took Mr. Wolf’s life lab course when I was in 7th grade and the message really stuck with me, so when I had the opportunity to help out and help the community too, I had to do it,” said Young, whose kiosk actually doubles as a dry erase board for Wolf’s class to use throughout the year.
“I want to be constantly be adding new things to this garden and expanding,” said Wolf. I’m thinking of growing berries but I need to do research to determine what berry will be in season during the school year.”
In 2016, Wolf’s class was successful in getting some of what his class grew to be served in the cafeteria, but with the city switching to a new food provider, he said continuing that trend is a work in progress.