College, elementary partner for harvest buddies program

Four native students participate

Riverside third-graders and their box buddies look at lettuce plants. (Photo courtesy of Michael Forster Rothbart)

ONEONTA — Nearly 70 SUNY Oneonta students helped launch a new service-learning partnership aimed at getting local elementary school children excited about growing their own food.

With grant funding acquired through SUNY Oneonta’s Center for Social Responsibility and Community, assistant professor of biology Sean Robinson built and installed vegetable grow boxes in all 12 kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms at Riverside Elementary School last fall.

As an added challenge for the fifth-graders, Robinson built hydroponics growing units and placed them side-by-side with the regular grow boxes so the students could see which type of system worked better for their plants.

A total of 68 biology and sociology students participated in the program. Throughout the fall semester, the student box buddies visited their assigned classrooms several times to help the children plant vegetables and herbs and to present lessons about food, society, the environment and plant biology. Each lesson included group discussion and a hands-on activity, such as a game or worksheet.

“This project has really helped my students learn the information better,” said Robinson. “It’s also helped with other skills, such as public speaking. Initially the students were nervous about presenting in front of anybody — even little kids — but then by the second or third week, they got totally into it. They got comfortable, they found their groove. And they had fun with it.”

After a successful launch, associate professor of sociology Greg Fulkerson and Robinson said they are excited about the partnership’s potential to grow. Robinson will continue to visit the school this spring to check on the plants, and school Principal Melinda Murdock is working on plans for a harvest festival or local foods tasting event. Next fall, Fulkerson will have a new group of sociology students doing classroom visits, and he hopes to get more faculty members and schools involved.

“I think the model is a really good one in terms of bringing the college students to the elementary-age students,” Fulkerson said. “Everybody benefits: the community, our students. It’s a win-win.”

Amber Morey of Fonda, majoring in Biology, said this about the program: “My favorite lesson was ‘Dynamics of Soil.’ We were talking to the second-graders about what might be contained in different levels of soil, and a girl pulled me to the side and talked to me for a good five minutes about how she wanted to be a paleontologist. I just thought it was one of the sweetest, most tender moments I’ve ever experienced.”

Morey said aspires to get a Ph.D in cell and molecular biology or pharmacology and work in the pharmaceutical industry discovering drugs to treat mental illnesses.

See an interactive story about the partnership: www.oneonta.


These other area students participated in the program:

∫ Benjamin Bellandi of Gloversville, majoring in Biology;

∫ Coreena Monroe of Amsterdam, majoring in Biology;

∫ Allie Sanders of Fultonville, majoring in Psychology.