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Young Farmers Reap First Harvest in Battery Park

By Julie Shapiro | June 28, 2011 12:08pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — It's harvest time at Battery Park's new Urban Farm.

Hundreds of downtown students who have been planting, weeding and watering for the past two months recently began reaping the fruits, or rather vegetables, of their labor as lettuce, radishes, peas, kale and collard greens are all bursting from the 1-acre garden.

"It's fun because in the city there's not really much of an opportunity to grow things," said Jack Mellett, 11, a sixth grader at the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School.

"You feel a little bit more like you're in the country. It's like there's a country inside of the city."

Mellett and his classmates made a final trip to their Battery Park plot this week, as the school year drew to a close. Many students said their favorite part of the experience was watching the plants grow, from seeds to delicate green shoots to recognizable vegetables.

A sixth-grade student held out a newly harvested radish in Battery Park Monday afternoon.
A sixth-grade student held out a newly harvested radish in Battery Park Monday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"You see it the first day and then you see it two weeks later and it's just huge," said 11-year-old Ethan Teranishi, who lives in Greenwich Village.

The bird-shaped farm, which honors Battery Park's famous turkey resident, Zelda, launched this spring after students from Millennium High School suggested it to the Battery Conservancy. The farm will remain in place until the end of 2012, when it will be demolished to make way for a new bike path.

At the beginning of the spring, most of the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School kids were hesitant about plunging their hands into the dirt and digging around worms and spiders, but they quickly embraced the new experience, said Lauren Matyola, a sixth-grade teacher.

"Every week, they get more and more into it," Matyola said.

On Monday afternoon, Matyola's students rushed excitedly toward their plot, in awe of the size of their crops and the spider and bee climbing among the vegetables and marigolds.

"Look at the carrots!" one boy shouted. "They're getting so big!"

"Is this a weed?" a girl asked as she tugged at a green sprout.

Back in their Financial District classroom, the students have been learning about plant cells, photosynthesis and types of roots — along with the importance of eating vegetables.

Geovanni Darrisaw, 12, a Seaport resident, had never tried a radish until he recently yanked one out of the soil. To his surprise, he found that he liked it.

"It has a kind of salty taste," Darrisaw said.

Other students said the peas grown on the farm tasted sweeter than the ones their parents buy in the supermarket.

The farm will not lie fallow over the summer — some students hope to return with their families, and Kara Levin, a sixth-grade teacher who lives nearby in TriBeCa, plans to bring her 5 and 7-year-old sons to help as well.

To give more people a chance to taste the garden's bounty, the Battery Conservancy plans to open a semiweekly farmer's market just outside the farm by the middle of July, said Alexanna Ashley-Roth, a New York University student who is interning at the farm.

By then, Ashley-Roth expects to have a full crop of tomatoes, lettuce, string beans and zucchini to sell.

To volunteer at the farm or adopt a plot, e-mail urbanfarm@thebattery.org.