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Hommocks Greenhouse Brings Nutrition to Life

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- The empty space on the second-floor corridor at Hommocks Middle School will soon be filled with green plants and, if Betty Comerford has her way, students with a green appetite.

Comerford, sixth and eighth grade home skills teacher, is waiting on some final touches before the permanent greenhouse on the Hommocks roof is ready to open, which is tentatively slated for November. When it does, it will be used as a "year-round learning center for children throughout the district," said Comerford. The learning starts in the classroom.

The four-year home skills teacher wrote the grant proposal in 2009, her second year at Hommocks. She previously taught in Connecticut, where she had a larger budget for healthy food, which she said can be more expensive. The greenhouse is her way of working with a smaller budget, while still introducing students to healthy food.

The grant was funded mostly through a New York State education grant, as well as the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation.

While the four-year home skills teacher doesn't expect all of her students to become beet eaters, she hopes that it will open their eyes to where the food they eat comes from and how to become more self-reliant.

"When you ask them where food comes from, they'll say Stop and Shop," she said. "The greenhouse will educate and provide students with an important connection between the foods they eat and the source of the food, an opportunity that, otherwise, many will never have."

To make that connection, Comerford will have her students experience planning, planting, growing, harvesting and finally eating their own food. The first project will be to grow basil and make pesto.

"Not only will they learn where food comes from and the nutritional benefits, they will also acquire the skills needed to sustainably grow fresh organic produce," said Comerford, who noted that the greenhouse could be incorporated into the Hommocks' science curriculum when teaching solar energy, nitrogen cycle, composting and photosynthesis.

While Comerford's five classes of 25 students will get a taste of growing the greenhouse, the Hommocks environmental club, called Club HOPE, will do most of the day-to-day maintenance.

Comerford said she also hopes to involve other levels of school through elementary school field trips to the greenhouse and a summer garden program for the Hommocks' co-op camp.

"Don't be surprised if they come home one day asking for beet turnip soup for dinner," she said.

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