Since we've completed two terms gardening at the local primary school -- and are about to tackle a third -- I thought I'd offer a few dot points on the experience.
- The 'garden' had been going almost three years but proved difficult to sustain, given term periods and holiday breaks. It had been established, fenced off...There were three beds, a shade tunnel and a spear pump that didn't work. It was over grown with weeds and the cause of much frustration for the P&C.
- At a local community meeting those of us into gardening --who had been trying to establish a community garden in town -- got into an exchange with the P&C president and we decided to take on the patch, renovate and run it under the format of a 'community garden'.
- One of us was a retired horticulturalist and that gave the project traction and confidence. We topped up the volunteer pool. The children dug over and weeded the garden in a working frenzy and we commenced the second term by planting out herbs and vegetables.
- As we consolidated the routine we arranged to supply fresh veg and herbs to the local community club and an in-town cafe in exchange for meal vouchers the P&C could raffle off. In consultation with these outlets and the school tuck shop we planted out to suit produce demand. Indeed, aside from capital outlays, the garden makes money to sustain itself through these P&C fundraising activities.
- As the number of plants under cultivation grew and the maintenance routine consolidated, the project was utilised as an opportunity to run complimentary programs: we planted out vines in the school grounds to attract the threatened Bird Wing Butterfly; the school began a cooking program run by a professional chef (and parent) using some garden produce in the recipes; the tuck shop ran highly successful special food days based on garden produce(sandwiches, muffins, egg slices); the butterfly theme was taken up in a series of mosaic pavers the children created. The old gardens at the Prep school and the next door Creche and Kinder were renovated.We made scarecrows and invited the under 8's to plant out and harvest.
- Not every child has garden access. Working in the garden is a privilege and a reward. It is also used as a cooling off space for problem behaviours. Some outdoor classes are held there and the children take on major gardening tasks like planting, watering and turning over the soil when required. The garden is busy each morning from 8.30am when it is routinely attended, watered and worked.Other occasions during the day are also spent in the garden. It is a special place which we try to make engaging and 'magical'.
- Finally this term we should get chooks. We've secured access to a Stingless Bee Hive and that should be erected soon. A partnership and exchange program will proceed with a local high school's agriculture program. We have a new snazzy pump which has greatly reduced our labours. Soon enough the whole school will be put on a recycling and vermiculture program which will create compost for the garden.
- We harvest roughly every fortnight to supply produce to our 'clients'. As well as the local outlets, we are now distributing produce to the broader school community especially as the children are so enthusiastic about their vegetable harvests. They're taking home the thrill and their knowledge of fresh produce and how it is grown. This term coming we hope to begin seedling production for broader distribution. The perspective of the tuck shop has shifted more to fresh produce and 'fresh produce' menu days are very popular. (The tuck shop's Zucchini muffins pictured right)
- The School 'Community Garden' has been met with a massive endorsement from the community as a whole and drawn attention to the school and its programs. It is used as a recruiter for school enrolments and as an exercise in emphasising the role of the school in the town over all. The garden program may also be a contributing factor to the school's high attendance record compared to other primary schools in Queensland -- although there are other reward mechanisms in play. It is showcased on open days and special event occasions and is an enriching partnership unfolding, that so many are proud of.
- The only handicaps to running this activity are that (a) volunteers must be inducted through the school's volunteer program and are required to have a Blue Card before they can participate;(b) generally , gardening is limited to school hours --although volunteers access the school for gardening duties during vacation periods. Nonetheless, the shared labour and shared knowledge & skill among the adults has a 'community garden' dynamic with the ongoing delight of working with the children growing so much fresh produce. Their energy, commitment and enthusiasm is thrilling.
The garden in June
My view is that school gardening like this may indeed be a way around the practical and political problems often faced by 'community' gardening initiatives. A partnership is needed between volunteers, teaching and ancillary staff but if there is enthusiasm among teachers -- who recognise the pedagogical and behavioural opportunities offered by gardening at school -- then the dynamic takes off. Indeed, I cannot envisage a school gardening project like this surviving without such a conscious partnership being worked at and engineered.Having a professional horticulturalist on hand also helps heaps. We all learn.
Similarly, the garden feeds a broader focus on fresh produce and un-alienated food that has nutritional and health consequences long term. It's clear that the children shift their menu preferences more toward the vegetable universe when they can relate to the growing of fresh food.
The garden in September
- For the gardeners out there: At present we have beds dedicated to tomatoes, pumpkins, garlic, and corn. We have a large walk through mixed garden full of herbs. We grow salad greens in three beds, spring onions in two and around the patch we are growing cucumbers, radishes, carrots, spinach, silver beet and zucchini. We grow kale and pole beans. There is a bank of vertical gardens -- not very successfully & I hate them -- a line of lavender; and this week we plant out sunflowers again.One bed is green manured. The only plant that didn't perform well this year so far was our potatoes.