One parent's inspiration to get kids to grow their lunch.

One parent's inspiration to get kids to grow their lunch.

At St. Philip's Academy, a private K-8 school in Newark, New Jersey, the gym roof boasts a 4,500-square-foot garden, thanks to Frank Mentesana. A former food stylist and co-founder of the restaurant Once Upon A Tart in Manhattan, Mentesana had helped his son's school start a garden.

So when he heard that St. Philip's needed someone to improve students' eating habits and teach them about farming, he jumped at the opportunity. Since Mentesana became the facilitator for EcoSPACES (St. Philip's Academy Cultivating Environmental Sustainability) in 2008, he has turned the once-ornamental rooftop garden into one that produces food and has helped teachers develop plots relevant to their curriculums. For example, as third graders learned about Native American history, they planted a "Three Sisters" garden of corn, beans and squash and used their bounty to create traditional meals.

Harvests from the gardens are also used in lunch menus. Next up? Cooking classes to help parents learn the healthy cooking and eating habits their kids are learning in school.

Photo Credit: Ansell Hawkins

March/April 2010