A growing opportunity at ConVal

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Photo by Dana Wood—

  • Photo by Dana Wood—

Monday, October 10, 2016 6:51PM

There was trouble across the street from Conval. And it had to be dealt with immediately.

One of my students had discovered a hornworm in the Cornucopia Hoop House. These oversized caterpillars—known as tomato hornworms—were feasting on tomato plants, boring into the fruit and leaving holes the size of a small fist. Most of the students had never seen one, but after my quick explanation, we went on a hunt for the intruders. The excavations in the tomatoes were the most obvious of the telltale signs, but there were others: denuded branches and, predictably, piles of droppings.

My students went on a plant-by-plant hunt for the hornworms, dispatching them underfoot. But not all of them….. everyone gathered around to see one hornworm with soft white ovals all over its back. These were tiny wasp eggs that hatch into larvae and then feed on the inside of the hornworm. Think “Aliens.” We made the decision to leave that hornworm; it was already past its prime, no longer a threat. Let the larvae turn into wasps to be beneficial for the ecosystem and the tomato crop.

These students are part of a Sustainable Agriculture course I developed with the support and enthusiasm of local farmers, community members, and fellow teachers. It was tough to get a hold of farmers considering their busy schedule, but they were eager to help and a tremendous resource. We visit the Cornucopia Hoop House or the closest of Farmer John’s Plots across the street two to three days each week. It’s one thing to discuss Sustainable Ag in the classroom, even more important to get the students into the field. So we trellis, prepare plots, enrich soil, plant, harvest, haul out dead plant material to create compost, and sample the harvest as we go along. The cantaloupes have been super sweet this year, the tomatoes delicious. For some students this was their first time picking and eating straight out of the garden.

We harvested beets, my favorite, at Farmer John’s Plot and brought some

back to school. We roasted the beets, and students peeled and sliced the lot. We ate them with butter and a touch of salt: they couldn’t have been sweeter. The students dug in! Their reactions were heartening.

“May I have more?”

“Of course!”

“May I have thirds?”

“Yes indeed!”

I overheard one student declare that he was going to ask his mom if they could have beets for Thanksgiving.

Part of Sustainable Ag is knowing what to plant and when. This week students will be headed to the Hoop House to plant the winter-hardy greens that each has selected. I anticipate that there will be a very satisfying harvest in January. Fresh and local!

Dana Wood is a science teacher at ConVal High School.