Two simultaneous harvest celebrations took place Thursday afternoon in Naperville as two schools just blocks away from each other picked the first fall crops from gardens planted this spring.
Beebe Elementary School students and Saybrook subdivision neighbors marveled at pumpkins, squash, tomatoes -- even edible flowers -- as they hosted a scavenger hunt and community gathering at their new garden space.
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"This is the first elementary school that has a garden like this," said Kristin Fitzgerald, a Naperville Unit District 203 school board member. "I think it's great -- they can learn in many different ways for multidimensional learning."
At the same time, Naperville North High School special education students and horticulture club members showed visitors through their new courtyard garden featuring lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, peppers and herbs.
"This used to be overgrown and have no purpose to it, so we made it the edible garden," Katie Genovesi, instructional coordinator of special education, said about the courtyard just outside the multi-needs special education classroom.
Both gardens illustrate a giving spirit. The Beebe garden, created by Saybrook Garden Club members and Beebe parents led by Lucy Nobrega, has donated more than 150 pounds of produce to Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville throughout the summer as the plants have ripened, spokeswoman Jody Bender said.
"Kids always like to share food," Bender said. "This is a nice way to share healthy food."
The Naperville North garden's donation total has reached roughly 30 pounds, also benefiting Loaves & Fishes.
"As the years go on, we'll have much more to donate, more variety," Genovesi said.
The gardens differ with touches of what Nobrega called "character." Beebe's is decorated with a scarecrow, a giant spiderweb made of string and a compost bin, all added by various scouting groups.
It also has logs donated by the city's forestry division that serve as seats when teachers begin holding the occasional class outside in the garden as they incorporate the natural area into their curriculum.
Nobrega said students already have learned from the process of planting seedlings, watering and weeding the garden, and watching the crops' progress.
One student in particular was surprised to discover a whole network of roots lies underneath a square of sod.
"I thought, 'This garden is for you,' if you don't know there are roots under grass," Nobrega said.
The garden at Naperville North has a raised planter built by students in a woodworking class to allow special education students who use wheelchairs to be able to tend plants with their peers during a vocational in-school work period. Art students also made their mark on the space by designing a poster noting the garden's establishment year of 2013 and creating decorative steppingstones to serve as walkways.
Some aspects of the garden, such as the herb bed adorned with rocks in a spiral pattern, are a work in progress. But Jonathan Buettner, a senior and horticulture club member, said continuing the work will let more students learn about plant characteristics and growing seasons.
"I helped with the spiral herb garden, which I don't think we're going to finish this year because the growing season is almost over," Buettner said. "But it'll look real nice next year."