It was only two years ago when the seeds of an agricultural education program at Mattituck High School were planted after high school principal Shawn Petretti attended a discussion on farming led by North Fork farmer Carl Gabrielsen. Petretti wondered if the school could do something that would excite the students and give them an opportunity to potentially make a good living farming on the North Fork.
After Gabrielsen donated a greenhouse to the school and an unused science lab was fitted with growing beds and lights, 27 students immediately signed up for the environmental science class. This year there are 54 students signed up and over 60 for next year.
Yesterday afternoon Petretti and science teacher Eric Frend led the Mattituck school board on a tour of the agriculture laboratory and the greenhouse. Frend, who has a background in environmental science and who was instrumental in getting the program up and running, proudly showed off a new 300 gallon aquaponics system in the lab.
He explained how the students use koi fish waste to fertilize plants growing nearby, talked about the hydroponically grown lettuce and introduced the board members to a baby clown fish, hatched from eggs given to them by Southampton High School.
Out in the greenhouse, which sports topsoil benches full of newly planted seeds, high school junior Cavan Gardner enthusiastically talked about a small patch of baby plants growing in one corner.
“We came in here and watered it yesterday and it just sprouted today,” he said. “It’s kind of neat to see that kind of thing.”
Cavan helped construct the wooden growing platforms and is in the process of helping build another using skills he learned both in woodshop and from his uncles who taught him carpentry.
After the tour, students from Cutchogue East Elementary gave a presentation to the board, describing some of the work they’d been doing at their school under the guidance of teacher Sarah Main.
Third-grader Helen Shultz described the studies she and her class were doing on beneficial insects in the school garden, adding “I think it’s really cool that we can grow our own fresh food.”
Fifth-grader Haylie Dickerson talked about starting plants in small containers, saying “I thought this way of growing was fascinating.”
Cutchogue East has entered a nationwide contest to win up to $5,000 in grant money through the Carton 2 Garden program, which helps schools repurpose juice and milk cartons to seed plants for school gardens.
Main pointed out that the program the elementary school students were involved in was modeled on what the high school was doing.
“We’re prepping them for you,” she said with a laugh.
SoutholdLOCAL photos by Katharine Schroeder