Shelton Intermediate student farmers have found a market with Common Bond

Vegetables being grown by Shelton Intermediate School (SIS) students now are being sold on the produce shelf of a local food store, right next to items from commercial farms.

The Common Bond Market in Huntington Center is selling carrots, kohlrabi and Swiss chard produced in the SIS garden.

They are labeled as being from “Shelton Intermediate School” on the shelf.

“I hope that people get that warm, Shelton pride feeling when they see the sign that says ‘Shelton Intermediate School,’” said SIS Principal Kenneth Saranich.

Having produce from the SIS garden sold at a local store, Saranich said, allows the community to better see what is being done in the schools.

Eric Wolf, an SIS teacher who helps oversee the school’s garden, approached the new natural foods store with the idea.

Joshua Elliott, the store’s co-owner, thought it was a good concept. “Part of what we do here is have as much local as possible,” he said.

Elliott said buying produce on a wholesale basis from local farms can be a challenge since many prefer the direct-to-consumer route for economic reasons.

Hooking up with SIS enables the Common Bond Market to sell quality vegetables that are only grown a few miles from the store — and that are tended by people some of the market’s customers may even know.

“It’s great because they’re so close to us,” Elliott said.

Expanding garden

This marks the third summer for the SIS garden, which has expanded to include more than 20 beds. The garden area has sheds and, thanks to funding through Mayor Mark Lauretti’s office, a hoop house for winter growing.

Saranich said students, parents and teachers volunteer at the garden during the summer as well as the school year. “People are here every day in the summer,” he said.

Many of the students are earning community service hours as Scouts or church members, or attend Shelton High School and are doing their required community service.

Summertime tasks in the garden generally are watering and weeding, with harvesting toward the end of the summer.

The garden grows a large variety of vegetables, including some items usually not found in backyard gardens such as kohlrabi, a purple-colored turnip cabbage, and Swiss chard, a leafy green known for its health benefits.

Most plants are started in the hoop house with the goal of harvesting them in the late spring, when school is still in session. These items usually are sold at in-school farmers’ markets.

This year the harvest was later than usual, which prompted Wolf to think about the best way to sell vegetables once the school year ended. That’s when he spoke to the Common Bond Market.

Proceeds from vegetable sales are put back into the garden, to buy seeds and pay other expenses.

A thriving garden club at SIS

Shelton Intermediate has a garden club with about 35 student members, which meets weekly during the school year. Wolf is the club’s adviser.

They germinate and plant the seeds in the fall.

Saranich said the school’s garden program teaches students everything from math to science, but perhaps the most important lesson has to do with responsibility and community.

“There’s a lot of responsibility involved, with daily tasks,” Saranich said, “and it helps emphasize the purpose of community. We want to instill that in our students.”

In the future, SIS gardeners may even try to grow specific vegetables for the Common Bond Market — perhaps those not available from most farms.

Elliott said it’s a business —and community — relationship that is working for both sides, with the SIS vegetables selling well in the store.

“It’s going really well,” he said. “Everything has just kind of clicked. Customers are excited we have as much local as possible.”