Brookline Elementary School Garden

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916
Children from Brookline Elementary School working in the school garden in July 1916.

In 1909, the year Brookline Elementary School opened, the Pittsburgh Playground Association and the Board of Public Education began a new initiative to introduce local school children to nature studies and gardening.

There was a belief that children in the heavily industrialized city of Pittsburgh had lost touch with any practical knowledge of the rural activities of gardening and nature study.

The gardening program was piloted by Professor Joseph F. Moore, the principal at Brookline Elementary School. The site chosen for the project was a large plot of undeveloped land that bordered Wedgemere, Rossmore, Gallion and Pioneer Avenues. Located next to a baseball field and playground, the school garden measured 273 x 372 feet.

Under the supervision of a member of the Pittsburgh Playground Association and teachers from the elementary school, the crops were planted and cultivated by the student population, along with some volunteer parents. The children grew a wide variety of vegetables.

It didn't take long for the kids to master the art of growing their own food. They tended to the crops both in their spare time and during school breaks. After the school year ended, the kids continued the gardening program during their summer vacation.

The crops they harvested were used for school lunches, with the excess either sold to local merchants or donated to local food kitchens. The gardening experience became an invaluable part of the student curriculum.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Most families at the time had home garden plots to help supplement their food stores. The school gardening project helped teach the kids about responsibility and accountability in addition to giving them valuable insights into the Brookline community's rural agricultural roots.

The Brookline Elementary School Garden was mentioned in the City's 1912 annual report on Pittsburgh Playgrounds, Vacation Schools and Recreation Parks. John Randall, the Supervisor of Nature Study and Gardening, reported on the status of the project. Some excerpts from his report are reprinted here:

"This has been the most successful garden season. The heavy rainfall increased the production of leaf and root crops and the early, short dry spell came in just the right time to give a good yield of beans. It has been reported by one teacher that local farmers have stopped carrying vegetables and beans that were grown in the neighborhood at the time that crop was ripe in our gardens."

"Mr. Wiseman, the coordinator assigned to the Brookline garden, reported student attendance throughout the year at 4680, and submitted the following list of products raised through September 15th. He estimated that as much more was harvested by the end of the growing season."

Beets - Eleven hundred dozen.
Radishes - Thirteen hundred dozen.
Cucumbers - Two thousand.
Corn - One thousand ears.
Carrots - Fourteen hundred dozen.
Turnips - Eighty dozen.
Beans - Four hundred eighty-two pecks.
Lettuce - Two thousand heads.
Tomatoes - Four hundred.
Cabbage - One hundred heads.

"On the evening of September 18th, a corn roast was given by the children of Brookline to their parents. Over five hundred old and young people met at the garden to dance about the fire. Over eight hundred ears of corn were served and all were pleased with the work of their young gardeners."

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

From the looks of things, these kids were first-class farm hands. The photos above were taken on July 18, 1916. The garden remained at its original location until the early-1920s, when residential development along Gallion and Rossmore forced Brookline Elementary to move the garden to a field adjacent to the school building, where it remained for many years.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1920
Children working in the Brookline School Garden in 1920.

Other Pittsburgh Public Schools With Gardens

Professor Moore's pilot program at Brookline Elementary School was so successful that student-run gardens soon became a popular attraction at most of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, including Brookline's West Liberty Elementary School.

In 1910, the second year of the program, there were three school gardens in operation. The following year that number had increased to six. By 1912 there were fifteen school gardens throughout the city. The Nature Study and Gardening program continued until the late-1950s.

Bane Elementary School Gardens - 1917    Dilworth Elementary School Gardens - 1917
Bane Elementary School on the South Side (left) and Dilworth Elementary on Mount Washington, both shown in 1917.

Beechwood Elementary School Gardens - 1916
Beechview's Beechwood Elementary School garden in 1916.

Holmes Elementary School Gardens - 1951    Mifflin Elementary School Gardens - 1951
Holmes Elementary on the North Side (left) and Mifflin School in Lincoln Place, both shown in 1951.

West Liberty School Gardens - 1951
Brookline's West Liberty Elementary School garden in 1951.

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