Shaker Garden: Growing Produce and Partnerships

When chemistry and food science teacher Amber Cost looks at an individual piece of produce from the Shaker Garden she sees far more than nutrition for students, family, and the community. She sees the ever expanding partnerships that are resulting in the bounty of crops.

Along with environmental science teacher James Rodewald, Cost started the Shaker Garden five years ago. And while many schools across the country have embarked on starting gardens, only a few persevere. And even fewer, like Shaker Garden, thrive and grow to be so successful.

As its fifth growing season is underway, the garden has 16 raised beds, 5 fruit trees, and several blueberry bushes. 

The main ingredient in the recipe of success so far has been partnerships. “The space brings people together,” Cost said.

Custodians and administrators at Shaker High School, and district personnel have been and continue to be supportive. Individuals from both the Forts Ferry Farm and the Il Faro Restaurant have contributed to the garden.

The North Colonie CSD food services team is overjoyed with the bounty of fresh produce that is now making its way into kids’ stomachs. This summer, the very ripe peaches were quickly cut and fed to students at the summer session classes. The apple trees are expected to provide crunchy nutrition in the coming weeks.

The goal is to use everything. Everything. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and salads made of kale and swiss chard were served as part of the summer meals program. Additional tomatoes still being harvested will be frozen and herbs dried for use in school meals this fall, said Alex Clements, who joined the food services team in May 2022.

“When I came on board in May, one of things Lisa Ostrowski (food services director) wanted me to work on was incorporating farm-to-school meals,” Clements said. “First step is getting fresh food to the kids. We get fresh produce from our vendors, but there is nothing like going out and picking it yourself.

“We are so impressed with what she has done and is planning,” Clements added. “We want it to grow.”

Something Cost is working to have happen too. A member of the Forts Ferry Farm team installed an irrigation system this summer. The SHS Class of 1972 was so impressed with what they saw when on campus for their reunion this summer, they donated $500. 

Cost and Rodewald are seeking grant dollars to build greenhouses, a composting system as well as a cleaning/storage facility to allow the garden to be more efficient and have a greater school-wide impact. 

 “We are hoping to build multiple elevated beds for our special education students, which may mean a change to the ground around them for ease of access as well,” she said. 

Deputy Superintendent Kathy Skeals is proud to see the garden thrive.

“It is truly showing students how we can be better partners to the Earth and our environment through such sustainable practices,” Skeals said.

What to learn more or possibly partner in the Shaker Garden? Contact Amber Cost at