By Peter Lederman
I think someone once said that a man or woman with a passion could move the Earth. Andes Central School’s teacher of all sciences, Ed McGee, has actually done just that.
Ed started teaching at ACS about 18 years ago and has progressively gained the credentials to now be teaching 7 different science courses to students in grades 7 through 12. He teaches Physical and Life sciences to the 7th and 8th graders and Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Ecology and Earth Science to the older grades.
Back to just moving earth. About 10 years ago Ed began to search for a hands-on method to interest his students in scientific pursuits and became inspired to reproduce his own reawakened love of planting and growing vegetables and fruit. He remembered as a child how excited he was to work alongside his grandparents in a small suburban garden they had, and how over his adolescence that joy was buried under high school studies, activities and friendships. When he and his wife Kathy, who runs a college farm in Sullivan county, moved to the Andes area, they turned all their off time to planting mixed vegetables, building greenhouses, maintaining large apple and pear orchards, and grafting exotic species onto more common trees.
Ed was surprised how so few of his students, at a school set in a rural agricultural area, had real experience or maintained any interest in planting. He wanted his students to feel the beauty he feels in sliding his hands into the warm earth and nurturing life. He finds it easier and more engaging to teach scientific concepts while the students are already involved and questioning.
So, Ed needed some earth to move. After soliciting help from the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), and organizing fundraisers, Ed was given access to 2 acres of land behind the school and was given approval to build a 25’ x 60’ hoop house to extend the vegetable-growing season. He enlisted the help of parents and students from the school and interested friends, particularly Laurie McIntosh. The building was raised and a spirit began to grow. Ed had his own tractor brought to the site and yes….the earth began to move under his feet.
He was delighted and proud to show me what has developed. He takes his 9th through 12th grade students out 2-3 times a week in good weather to plant and care for tomatoes, onions, chard, lettuce, potatoes, radishes, kale, herbs and his favorite cucumbers which he “just loves to pickle.” The planting starts early in the hoop house and then vegetables get transplanted into beautiful raised beds. This year he is excited to be adding 7th and 8th graders to the fold. The bulk of the preliminary and preparatory work is mostly done by Ed as he likes to save the loving parts for his students. The maintenance and kitchen staffs supply the materials for the compost he makes. Ed and his students offer most of the produce to the school cafeteria so that they can follow the process to its delicious conclusion.
With help this summer from Marcello Reale, Spanish teacher at the school, and Cheryl Starcher-Cevesna from the CCE, Ed was able to use local lumber to build some more raised beds so that folks from the community could use them, and higher raised beds to make it easier for disabled planters. Ed welcomes anyone to come see what he and the students have accomplished….but be careful, his happy passion can suck you right in.
* for full disclosure, the writer of this article plays music with Ed, who is a masterful banjo player, playing in two bands, in the scant times his hands are clean.~