Ford School Garden

The Ford School International Peace Garden – 2008-2015

As of March, 2015, the garden is no longer a community garden open to all.  In spite of protests from School Committee members Maria Carrasco and Donna Coppola, the Committee turned it into a school garden.

Under the direction of Superintendent Latham most of the garden was bulldozed. Classrooms, compost bins and the cistern were removed, making parents, teachers and children VERY sad and angry.

School gardens are all over Massachusetts, including Gloucester, Lowell, Boston and Salem. The Ford School garden, where children won 72 prizes at the Topsfield Fair, is the only garden reduced in size and function.

Superintendent Latham never asked parents, teachers or students their opinion. She and the School Committee were opposed to community schools, where the school and neighborhood work together to educate whole families and to solve social problems.

The garden was one of twenty-two programs reduced or removed from the school.  We hope the School Committee members  and Superintendent               Dr. Tutwiler will work with us to restore the Ford as a community school.

In the words of Horace Mann, the founder of public schools : “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Let’s look at what the school garden used to be and how it inspired the teachers and students:


 Nick Chum gives a tour of the Ford School garden and his hydroponics system

The Harvest Festival 2010

The Ford LEO kids won prizes at The Topsfield Fair

Topsfieldprizes How we fed kids information and lunch

Friend and science teacher Harrison Harley and aquaponics 

Background on the garden:

Visible along the main street and on asphalt in the Ford School yard, the garden was one of the few visible changes in a neighborhood that has seen hundreds of families displaced from foreclosures, four domestic murders, a problem with drugs and gangs, and high unemployment.

On the positive side, immigrants from many countries seeking a future lived next to older Highlanders. The school and the garden unified all with the themes of education, equal opportunity and peaceful co-existence.

Students planted tomatoes, peppers, chard, celery, eggplant, a total of 30 vegetables and herbs. They tended and harvested the crop. Classes were held to enhance the subjects they were studying. photo 5

Students won 72 prizes for their vegetables at the Topsfield Fair. They learned about agriculture and how to protect their environment. They learned about healthy food and the dangers of eating junk food. One-half of the 4th graders were over-weight or obese, nearly double the national average.

Older youth talked with students about farming and good nutrition. The garden hosted Food Corps, whose founder Greg Ellis called our garden ‘our best project.’  photo 4Students re-cycled trash and turned food scraps into compost They studied how flora and fauna and the sun’s energy are connected. Soda was banned. and drinking Lynn water encouraged. A cistern stored roof water.




This table shows how we evolved from the ocean and simpler forms of life:


An aquaponics greenhouse (link) revealed how fish help plants grow: Fish produce ammonia, which convert to nitrogen and is passed by roots, enabling plants to grow without soil.

Our growing season was five months long. What to do for seven months for fresh food? Canning and drying herbs is one way. Utilizing aquaponics,  food can be grown inside buildings, producing jobs and good health.

What is international about the garden? First of all, we define the crops by their origin. Very little that we eat is native. Secondly, people from many countries work there:

  • Mohammed Al-Hamdany, a world-renowned researcher from Iraq, helped us with plant pathology;
  • The Ouk family planted Asian long beans, bok choi, ginseng, squash;
  • Viviane Kamba from the Congo introduced us to amaranth, a popular,nutrient-rich grain in West Africa;
  • A Nigerian teacher made soup from “African spinach” that planted itself;
  • Hispanics found wild ‘verdolaga’ or purslane and made soup. They plant ‘maize’ or corn.

Mrs. Coti’s 4th grade class:

Urban Farming in the Highlands of Lynn

by Nick Chum, Andy Harding

When most people think of a farm they imagine a rural, barely populated area that only farmers know about. This stereotype couldn’t be any further from the truth. At the Ford School garden, we involved children and their families in producing organic food. We demonstrated a path to improve health while acting as a catalyst for others to make positive change.

students feet at Ford SchoolGarden

Obesity and diabetes in children is a big problem. Where children in the US are 30% over-weight or obese, Highlands youth are 50%. Unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyles are the primary cause for this trend. Obesity is the nation’s second leading cause of preventable death killing 300,000 a year.

The cost of treating obesity-related ailments in 2008 was $147 billion. Curbing this epidemic is key to ensuring a healthier future for Americans and reining in health costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a program to address obesity,  including encouraging communities to build schools within walking distance of students’ homes and making it easier for people to get access to healthful foods. The Ford School Garden is at the forefront of achieving this programs goals.

A Chinese poet wrote, “By sowing a seed, you will harvest once. By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold. By educating the people, you will harvest one hundredfold.” Education is our primary weapon against the food related problems of the world today. Ford School kids are very familiar with the garden. Classrooms visit it throughout the school year, and in summer school programs, to learn how to make a food-rich garden in their own homes.

Although the children are our priority, everyone is welcome. Neighbors often visit, attracted by the array of vivid colors of fruit, vegetables and flowers that are spread throughout the garden. We encourage visitors to make their own garden at home, but if space is limited they’re encouraged to plant in our community garden. We give our food away for free, asking that the receivers educate themselves and support our movement for local, organic farms.

Organic, local, and renewable; how do we do it? Other than the grant money and a supportive crew and community, the need for change is the drive that propels us to continue our efforts. Pesticides and herbicides are harmful to the environment and our health, which is why we’re completely organic. If you’re eating non-organic celery today, you may be ingesting 67 pesticides with it, according to the Environmental Working Group. Children exposed to higher levels of a pesticide found on commercially grown fruit and vegetables are more likely to have ADD than children with less exposure.

Eight out of the twelve “Dirty Dozen”, (fruits and vegetables which contain 40-67 pesticides per serving), are grown at our garden with no pesticides. We grow more than thirty varieties of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, beans, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, onions and tomatoes.

Why local? Transportation is a large percentage of the price of non-local food. and contributes to pollution as well.

Helping individuals turn their unused backyards full of grass and weeds into luscious gardens full of fruits and veggies is our ultimate goal. However, we can only plant the seed. It’s up to others to help it grow.

November 10th, 2010