A Garden Good Enough to Eat

Tyler Arboretum’s Edible Garden sows the seeds of environmental education and agricultural literacy with the addition of a new, 1.25-acre living classroom.

According to a June 2017 Washington Post article*, 7% of all Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. That translates to 16.4 million Americans – more than the population of the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – giving Milton S. Hershey reason to turn over in his grave.

Apparently, cows aren’t the only problem. The disconnect between how food really starts and how it ends up on our table can be seen in communities throughout our country. Whether it’s an elementary student who doesn’t realize that a pickle is, in fact, a cucumber; or a teenager who’s main vegetable source is French fries, our collective agricultural illiteracy appears to be growing like a weed.

“At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue,” says Cecily Upton, co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, in the Post. “Right now, we’re conditioned to think that if you need food, you go the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point.”

While Tyler Arboretum does not have cows – brown or any other kind – it does have a passion to connect people to plants and to environmental sustainability, especially to visitors who have never set foot on a farm. It was with that important mission in mind that the seeds of Tyler’s ambitious (and expansive) Edible Garden were sown.

“We are excited to share our new Edible Garden and schoolhouse with the community this spring,” says Tyler Arboretum Interim Executive Director Ben Carr. “At Tyler we strive to create and inspire stewards of the natural world, and the Edible Garden affords us a unique opportunity to interact with and educate our visitors.”

Scheduled to open in the spring of 2019, the Edible Garden will provide hands-on learning for all ages about healthy eating, healthy living, and sustaining healthy land, strengthening Tyler’s already solid environmental science curriculum. Each year, the arboretum’s expert educational team provides a variety of science programming to more than 7,500  children. With the addition of the Edible Garden, Tyler aims to reach more children annually.

In addition to providing important community education, the project will also foster valuable community partnerships. Surplus produce from the gardens will be donated to local food banks in Media and Chester. Vegetable demonstration gardens have already been built at five Delaware County libraries, spreading the mission of connecting visitors with the food they eat beyond the arboretum’s geographical boundaries.

Situated in Tyler’s historic core, this new learning garden will provide an experiential gateway to the arboretum’s other attractions with easy access to the meadows, woodlands, pond, and stream. Components of the Edible Garden will include:

  • Vegetable and Fruit Gardens – home to a display garden where visitors can learn about the diversity of delicious fruits and vegetables.
  • Children’s Vegetable Garden – designed with Tyler’s youngest visitors in mind, this garden allows children to take a shovel to the soil, nest a seed in the soil, or pick fresh produce.
  • Nature Discovery Garden – a land of make believe comes to life among the trees and garden edges. Young guests (and those who are merely young at heart) are invited to explore whimsical natural structures and the wild beauty that surrounds them.
  • 19th-Century Ruin Garden – the remnants of a domestic springhouse from the early 1800s provide the base of a garden created to tell the rich history of Tyler’s farming past.
  • Garden Schoolhouse – Built to accommodate groups of 50, this environmentally focused classroom facility will allow for learning and experimentation all year long. Whether it is students on a school field trip learning where their food comes from, a cooking class for adults held in the demonstration kitchen, or an intergenerational workshop on innovative gardening practices, this space will inspire creativity.
  • Rain Garden – built in the spirit of Quaker ingenuity, this garden will serve to purify the stormwater captured from the site and recharges it before it returns to the groundwater supply. By controlling stormwater flow, the rain garden also prevents flooding and erosion of local streams and helps to sustain them during dry seasons.

The Tyler Arboretum Edible Garden is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum Library Services through grant award number MA-10-14-0328-14 and many generous foundation and private donors.

* Dewey, Caitlin. “The Surprising Number of American Adults Who Think Chocolate Milk Comes From Brown Cows.” The Washington Post, June 15, 2017.