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Valley Tech’s Culinary Students Learn to Cultivate in Upton

Blackstone Valley Tech junior James Berrini-Shaner of Milford (left) spreads top soil that has been placed by Culinary Team Leader Chef Matt Williams (right) in one of Valley Tech's two plots at the Upton Community Gardens. Chef Williams plans to plant onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and asparagus among root vegetables.

Chef Matt Williams, Culinary Team Leader at Blackstone Valley Tech, has begun including an important lesson in his program this spring. The program has begun cultivating a root vegetable garden in two plots at the Upton Community Gardens on Mechanic St.

Work on the garden has already begun and will continue through the late fall. With prep work near completion, the program plans to have seeds sewn and plants in the ground in the upcoming weeks. Valley Tech's plots will consist of root vegetables that will require minimal maintenance over the summer months when students and teachers are on summer break. Chef Williams plans to plant onions, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and asparagus among other items. Once the fall arrives and the crop is mature, the vegetables will be harvested and used in the school's student-run restaurant, the Three Seasons Restaurant, which operates throughout the school year. While the yields of the garden will not be enough to fully sustain the needs of the restaurant, the project will primarily serve as a learning tool.

"It is important for the students to see how this is done - to plant something, care for it, watch it grow, and ultimately to harvest the crop, and put it to use," stated Chef Williams. "This is a tremendously rewarding learning experience. We're teaching each individual in the culinary program how to successfully garden, but we will also learn from any potential failures. There is a real benefit to knowing precisely where your food comes from.

Additionally, the program has planted small fruit trees including apples and peaches on the Valley Tech campus that will yield fruit in a few short years when the trees mature. They have also begun using a composting bin located on campus where compostable refuse from the restaurant and sawdust from the Carpentry program are recycled for use in the vegetable gardens. Valley Tech is a Massachusetts Green School, and is continually look for ways to conserve. Composting not only produces nutrient rich material for use in the garden, but it reduces the amount of waste the school pays to remove it from the campus.

The Upton Community Gardens were established as an organic, pesticide-free community garden at the former Stefans Farm Parcel in 2009 by the Upton Land Stewardship Committee. Plots are assigned to Upton residents by lottery, with preference given to handicapped individuals, community groups and senior residents.


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