A group of children used their hands as tiny shovels, making small holes in the loose soil.
They carefully took a selection of young plants from their plastic containers and placed them inside, covering their roots with soil before gently spraying them with water. With proper care, hopefully the plants will start growing soon.
With the right mix of sun and water, they will eventually produce an abundance of tomatoes, peppers and lettuce – just like the gardens that stood on the same site in the 1930s and 1940s.
And that’s the whole point.
The children, about 45 fifth graders from Gov. Mifflin Intermediate School, created a victory garden at the John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington. Victory Gardens were created during World War II to help overcome food shortages caused by the war effort.
A joint effort by Updike Home and the school district, the project offers children the opportunity to learn some unique lessons and the historic site an opportunity to reclaim a part of their past.
The effort was led by teacher Damien Drago, who says he was approached by county officials to recreate the garden Updike’s family planted in their backyard when he was a child. The Updikes grew an assortment of produce and sold it from a stand near their home at 117 Philadelphia Ave.
Drago was an obvious choice for the project as he loves both gardening and history.
He enlisted his fifth graders as well as a second grader to help with the effort. The students helped build the four raised beds—each 32 square feet—and filled them with soil. And last week they planted 46 plants in this soil.
Drago said the project offers many learning opportunities for the students. They used their math skills to figure out how much soil to buy, they learned about the process of growing crops, and they had a chance to find out about one of the county’s historical figures.
The kids even took a three-mile historical walking tour of Shillington, seeing sights that show what the district looked like when Updike grew up there. And they read some of Updike’s poems that the author wrote for children.
Drago said he plans to recruit some students living in the Shillington area to tend the garden during the summer. And he hopes to expand the project in the future.
More garden beds will likely be added in the years to come, and attempts will be made to grow similar produce to what the Updikes did more than 80 years ago.