Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Nathan Broden

One of the most iconic and lovely places in Sunnyside is the garden-filled grounds at the Sunnyside school. During school hours, the gardens are packed with students of all ages—digging, seeding, pulling weeds and harvesting all through the year. The garden was installed at the school’s inception in 1994, and is an integral part of Sunnyside’s curricular focus on environmental and place-based education. Nathan Broden has been the garden coordinator since 2022. His daughters, Iris and Jada, are both Sunnyside students. One of Farmer Nathan’s favorite things about the neighborhood are all the community connections—how neighbors can also be students, and how local businesses connect to one another and to the school community.   

What do you love most about your job and the garden?

The kids! I’ve owned three farms myself and I always wanted to have an educational farm, which is basically what our garden is. This is where it all starts. I want every kid to grow up feeling like they know where food comes from, what the food system is (like, food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store), as well as how hard and valuable growing food is. I want them to have the confidence that they can feed themselves and their neighbors if they want to. Having your hands in the soil with all those microbes counteracts some of what we have been seeing with kids and screen time, rising rates of depression and all that. Even if some kids don’t really participate and just dig up worms or daydream in the garden—that is actually great. You don’t have to be pulling weeds to experience the value of being in a garden.

For years we hoped to cook some of the harvest in our school kitchen, but we’ve never succeeded—the kids literally eat everything as soon as it’s ripe! In fact, that’s my favorite part. I just had a kindergartner come up to me who became obsessed with radishes after he tasted the ones we are growing, and now makes his mom buy them at New Seasons every week. This week I asked if he wanted to try kale, and he was like, “I hate kale from the grocery store, but WOW I love kale if it’s only two seconds old!” 

How does the garden get incorporated into school curricula?

Every student in Sunnyside gets pulled out of class once a week and gets a half an hour in the garden, year-round, every year—kindergarten through eighth grade. The kids learn about our food system and how food is grown, participating in mulching, composting, seeding, and harvesting.

Tell us a bit about the garden—what is growing there?

We just built a “bean cave,” which is a fort made out of scarlet runner beans. They aren’t the best for eating but they’re really cool for making jewelry out of, so that will be a winter art project. We have a big strawberry patch, plus raspberries, salad greens, turnips, onions, green beans, sweet corn, potatoes, kale, collards, sprouting cauliflower, broccolini, blueberries, tons of cucumbers, zucchini, thornless blackberries, as well as three pumpkin patches, a beneficial insect garden, a native plant garden, a huge potato patch. We also have lots of fruit trees – a cherry tree, an apple tree, a plum tree, a kumquat tree, a pomegranate tree and five fig trees.

There are also some lovely historical parts of the garden. There is a giant pine tree in the front yard that the school’s original principal planted in 1994 – on the school’s first Earth Day. Now it’s the biggest tree ever! Our rose garden by the front entrance is a memorial garden honoring community members we have lost over the years.

What happened to the chickens?!

Yeah, the kids were devastated about the chickens being removed. PPS has been after our livestock projects for a long time—they have a rule that no livestock is allowed on public school property. We eventually lost that battle. But we actually used to have other animals too! About 10 years ago we had a pig and turkeys.

What future plans are you excited about?

I am working on a proposal to get a de-paving project approved by the district. The goal is to remove a section of the blacktop in the back of the school where we currently have a lot of drainage issues; it’s also a bit of a heat dome. We want to put in a miniature learning forest based on a Japanese design. It would have different canopy levels and an understory. It would be an awesome addition to the garden and would especially be used by middle schoolers during their “Year of the Forest” curriculum.

What happens to the garden in the summer when school isn’t in session?

Obviously, a lot of the harvest comes when kids aren’t there. I’m super excited because we are planning to open a produce stand in the Belmont Market (at the corner of 34th and Belmont), hopefully this summer when their renovations are finished, but next summer if they’re not. The owner, Nick, has been super supportive. The goal is that we can harvest and put some of the produce up for sale all summer long. The income would go back into the garden program.*  We might also propagate and sell houseplants. Once the produce stand opens, we would be so excited to have neighbors support the garden by buying some of the food the kids got started during the school year.

Can neighbors help out during the summer months?

We absolutely want neighbors to be involved, even if you don’t have kids at the school. You can find me in the garden two hours a day, three days a week during the summer. We have middle school students come help out and earn service hours. It’s also an opportunity for the community to come and be a part of the garden! Neighbors can sign up to help with watering, weeding, harvesting, etc.

Anyone who is interested can email me: [email protected]. We will have a booth at the Belmont Street Fair in September so people can stop by to meet me and some kids and find out how to get involved.

* Sunnyside’s garden program relies on parent and community fundraising; it is not funded by PPS. To make a donation, go to

Hanna Neuschwander

SNA Member at Large

Author: Hanna Neuschwander

SNA Member at Large