The Triumph of the School Garden
While this is my first summer as a WeFarm intern, during this time I have tasted how a garden can change a community. This change often begins at the bottom, which is to say it begins with the little people. When city kids learn that the food they eat every day does not magically appear in the grocery store or the taco stand outside their apartment, but grows in the earth (no less magically), transforming from a dead looking seed into hundreds of sweet pea pods, that community begins to change. The other WeFarmers and I have gotten to work on a school garden at Orozco Academy, a public school in Pilsen, which is a primarily Mexican neighborhood on the South side. Last year, WeFarm and the good people at the Resurrection Project built several raised garden beds in the back of Orozco, adding more raised beds along the front fence and the side of the building. During the school year, students had the chance to learn about farming, vegetables, and sustainability in the “Gro-Well” school program. The program has grown into a summer school program, educating Orozco kids during the most explosive gardening season. Besides creating a place where kids learn that they can make decisions now that affect their health and Earth’s health (and how yummy fresh tomatoes are), the school garden has become a source of pure goodness. Harvested vegetables have been eaten by curious kids, handed out to neighbors walking by, and given to Pilsen families. I get to see the same people walk by every Friday afternoon, always lighting up at the newly grown crops and requesting a taste. WeFarm is currently working with another school, Walsh Elementary, to finish up their garden so more city kids can have a little farmer in them too.
So why, you ask, are schools gardens SO WONDERFUL?!
Since you asked, let me tell you 5 reasons.
1. Kids learn to eat salad instead of fast food. Awesome.
2. Kids learn to be sustainable. i.e. Compost good, trash bad.
3. Gardens bring a sense of ownership to neighborhoods, increasing environmental stewardship. This has been proven to reduce crime and increase maintenance of surrounding property. Endless benefits! (check out this psychology study on gardening benefits by IRENE MILES, WILLIAM C. SULLIVAN and FRANCES E. KUO: http://web.mac.com/wcsulliv/William_Sullivan/Publications_files/Miles,%20Sullivan,%20Kuo%201998.pdf
4. Fresh, organic food is very delicious and sustainable. This truth gets passed on to family members and neighbors, spreading the goodness of sustainability and healthy living.
5. School gardens give kids something to nurture, they get to watch it grow, and they get to know they can help make something as important as food.
How to start your school garden:
First, consult gardening books or someone with garden knowledge for a base and ideas.This is a good one: Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work by Mel Bartholomew
Then, apply for grants! Or fundraise. The necessary fund amount depends on how big the garden will be.
Go to http://www.csgn.org/page.php?id=30 (California School Garden Network)
Once you have the funds and have consulted a bit, get started! Make some raised beds (4×4 or 4×12 are quite manageable), plant seeds, water, and watch it all grow. Read up on when the best times are to plant, water, and harvest.
Anyone can make a garden, but it takes some sweet nurturing and dedication to water and weed to make a successful one. So keep at it, and find ways to get the kids involved. Whether it be part of a class, and after-school or summer school program, or part of recess, let them care for and learn about the plants. Some may turn into master gardeners, others will try kale for the first time, all will get to play with dirt.