On school gardens


That’s me pushing the wheelbarrow

We’ve been busy lately, leaving me too busy to do much blogging!  The school’s garden is up and running.  This Thursday we had our first “Weed and Feed” event, which is simply a dinner picnic/gardening session.  Some wonderful parents, teachers and their children helped to fill our 16 raised beds (3’x8′, made of untreated 2x8s) with the school’s sheep poop and bedding, and then beautiful topsoil.  We avoided the raindrops!  And the snow!

Our school has always had a garden, but some years it has been tended more lovingly than others.  A few years back I’d joined up with some other parents to rid the school of prepackaged foods, especially in the school’s daily snack, by starting a Slow Snack group based roughly upon the principles of Slow Foods.  This group has become something of a Trojan horse:  by committing the school to slow down and source healthful, organic and mostly local edibles, our food-is-important agenda has taken root.  It has meant quite a bit of work on the parts of some parents and teachers, but it has been very popular with the children.  Food IS important.

3407976507_1c135b5350Wheelbarrows do hold more than just topsoil

We decided to further close the loop and utilize the gardens as a tool for both learning AND easy food.  My model for this was simple.  Each semester, the whole school studies one continent:  this means 3 year olds and 13 year olds are studying the geography, history, peoples and food heritage of a particular corner of the globe.  The garden, I decided, shall study that continent too and will wrap up each semester with a big harvest festival.  This spring’s area of study is Asia.  Asia!  HUGE!  Fun!  We’ll be growing everything from mibuna to bok choy to daikon to chrysanthemum greens:  quick, easy greenery for a nice spring harvest.

3407950687_693097efacEgyptian Walking onions

The summer gardens will supply the school snack’s Salsa and Pizza obsession (two big hits as ever with children) and we’ll be growing and freezing the bases for both so we simply thaw it and add more canned tomatoes as required to feed 150 children.  The fall gardens will be planted both in the spring and summer:  this Fall’s area of study is Europe (thankfully) so things like celeriac, leeks, cauliflower and long-season winter squashes will soon find their place in the beds.

Frankly, it feels really great to be putting my knowledge to use.

19 responses to “On school gardens

  1. Now that is awesome! It is great that you have a school of a size to do that. It isn’t possible for many reasons here, not least of which is hoodlums who purposefully destroy them or dump chemicals like antifreeze in them.

    It is so very nice to see that this kind of good and lasting learning is still happening in the world.

    Those beds look incredible and I’m envious of your lovely sheep poop compost!

  2. whoa. You guys lost not time in framing those beds, now, did you. I suppose there were none to be lost either, was there?

    Your school has sheep? How wonderful is that! Who takes care of them during the school holidays?

  3. I am so impressed and full of admiration. Such an important thing to do! Thank you!

  4. I love that you helped get packaged foods out of your kids school. My boys aren’t in elementary yet, but the school next door does have a great big garden. I can tell though through walking in it that only a few teachers are really into it. Maybe once my boys start going there I can get more involved.


  5. This is the best thing I think a school can do for its students, in so many ways. The heath benefits, yes, but the investment/planning, science, sociology and economy of food production, and just fun seeing git grow. As Deborah said, this makes me admire you all the more. I am just starting to work with a children community garden here, and the more I learn the more excited I am. If you have ideas/tips, I’d be grateful if you can share your successes.

  6. That’s a very cool looking garden. I really like the simplicity of the frames. Are those 2 x 8s? And what was the source of the soil? Is it really topsoil? Compost? A mix?

    I built a large container garden at my daughter’s charter school. It was a great challenge and loads of fun, especially the harvests and watching how excited the kids were to clean and peel and prepare the food. But the administration at the school has always been a mess. None of the other parents showed any interest. The teachers who had been active moved away. The garden languished. Some new parents have expressed an interest, so I am letting go of the garden. It does take a village.

  7. that is awesome! what an accomplishment! Is the total size of the school 150 kids? or did I read that wrong…

  8. Those are lucky children. I hope the hesitant parents jump in and get their hands dirty-they don’t know what they’re missing.

  9. That’s just awesome… We’ve got a cooperative daycare here in town that my youngest goes to and my oldest used to. They do a spring garden there that I just keep thinking could be so much better! I should get off my duff and make it happen.

  10. Nice job! What orderly gardens! You folks are doing great work for your children.
    Our daughter’s school has organic gardens too, but like you said, it tends to ebb and flow based on who has the time and skills each year to help organize it. Our school is also small,~150 kids and no cafeteria. So we don’t have to worry about institutionalized food there. It would be nice though to have a veggie pantry of sorts… they currently have a pantry for low-income kids or kids who forget their lunch, but it’s full of non-perishable (sometimes not-so-great) things.
    Hmmmm, now you’ve got me thinking… fruit and greens in the spring, veg in the fall…

  11. How very satisfying to be able to use your passions in volunteer work.

  12. What I noticed right away instead of the garden is my favorite cooking thing.A Weber charcoal grill with a Weber charcoal tower.What were you going to cook.I went through three or four of Chain store Charcoal Towers that always came apart after a year or so and spent 5 bucks more on the Weber one which is now 7 years old.Pray tell what are Egyptian walking onions?

  13. That IS beautiful topsoil! It looks like the “muck” on my parents’ farm in northern Indiana…how I wish I had some of that soil here in rocky, rocky Pennsylvania. Did I say we have rocks here? Anyway, “that’s me with the wheelbarrow” you say…I see TWO wheelbarrows in that picture! 😉

  14. Hi Christie. Yeah, well, hoodlums: what can you do? This is a fairly rural school, so, well, nobody messes with anything.

    Yeah, Sylvie, I had the wood delivered, chopped it up, carried it to school bit by bit and assembled the beds bit by bit. One other parent helped and he was a lifesaver (the things are heavy to move by yourself!). But yes, time’s a-wasting so they needed to be built. The sheep (they’re wonderful) go to a sheep farm for the summer but otherwise they’re here and cared for by the children.

    Ah, thanks, Deborah. Frankly I realized I had the knowledge to really take it on (if not the time) and I also realized if I set up something rather simple, it would both become its own marketing tool and the kids would love to be involved with it. The beds were a big step toward simplicity.

    Yeah, ASG, it would be great if you helped once they’re in school! I think that many teachers love gardening, but it can be quite daunting with all their classroom responsibilities to be completely involved in dirt-digging too.

    Well, MC, I’m just starting! I think what’s really important is to let things happen. I do have a garden plan, with what should go into which beds when, but honestly I don’t like the idea of being Queen, you know? So we will see how this evolves.

    Hi Ed. Yep, just 2x8s. The topsoil we got was pretty lovely, but frankly the school’s dirt is pretty nice too, fairly sandy/loamy. It would’ve been too much work to dig the paths up and into the beds so I just had the topsoil delivered. I do understand how “it takes a village,” and we’re kind of following The Edible Schoolyard as a guide. But I will tell you the Weed and Feed events do have great food and more importantly wine for the parents…and the garden IS in the play yard so the kids (and the sheep, which we let out of their pen) can help or not as they wish. Mostly, they help so it’s fun!

    Lindsay, yes, more or less, from 9 weeks to 9th grade.

    Pamela, I think the free gardening tips don’t hurt either!

    Compostings, yep! That’s how it starts…

    Amanda, yeah, same deal here: no cafeteria, but the school Snack (which is really just a tiny mid-morning bite of something so the children sit together and share, helping the low-blood sugar moment pre-lunch) used to be of the “open a package and dump it in a bowl” variety until we kind of got involved. Now more likely than not it’s a hot little something cooked up in the kitchens or fresh fruit or that salsa (the favorite!). So I would hope the gardens would flesh out the snack choices but more likely than not it’s the harvest festival that most of it will go. But yes, definitely…don’t you see how this could be great? Especially with all of Michigan’s great produce. We harvested 800 pounds of apples last fall, for instance, turning it into sauce and dried apples and frozen apples to add to baked goods…and we gleaned tomatoes and and and…

    Dogear, yep. I kind of think gardening is pretty easy but not everyone agrees I guess!

    Hah, John! Yep that’s our tower from home and I will bet it’s at least 7 years old too. The grill, though, belongs to the gardens. We all brought our own things to grill, but most things were shared. Egyptian walking onions are a type of multiplier onion that sends up this set of bulbils at the top of a flower stalk. The little bulbs get so big that the stalk falls over and plants itself in the ground! They’re great to use for scallions but the onions themselves are fairly tiny.

    Oh goodness Blaithin I meant to say that’s me pushing the wheelbarrow…I shall clarify. “Muck” is great soil to work with. There are two stream-side farms near us that have such wonderful soil and I get all jealous when I pass them. But yeah, rocks are pretty scarce! The downside though before you get all jealous is that paving stones that I want to edge around our pond are something like $4 EACH at the stores around here.

  15. Great idea and kudos to you! I’m always amazed that the schools let the snack industry run everything – the few times I’ve heard of parents backlashing or schools trying to get healthy, the snack food industry gives them more money and that’s the end. Doesn’t anyone have a heart or conscious anymore?

  16. Well, El, I’d be more than happy to trade you a truckload of some fine Pennsylvania rocks for a truckload some rock-less soil, preferably muck 🙂 Seems that the grass truly is greener on the other side. I do love the stone homes here in Pennsylvania, but digging a hole of any depth is agony. We’ve got so many rocks here on our property that we’ve begun to build cairns with them, thus the name of our little homestead, “Cairnwood Cottage” 🙂

  17. Lisa Applegate

    Hi, I live in SW mich also and enjoy your web (first found today) it is amazing I bearly have time to think but very nice job. Do you know what % shade cloth to use for extending lettuce/spinach etc in the summer (in SW mich). I contacted MSU extension but they are trying to find the info but I thought maybe you would know.

    Thanks Lisa

    • Hi Lisa. Any amount of shading helps, but won’t fully eradicate, your lettuce’s need to bolt! It’s the heat that gets ’em finally. What I do is I tend to plant the lettuces below anything that would eventually block their sun. So I interplant the fava beans with little seedlings, or plant on the north side of a trellis, etc. But to answer your direct question: I have successfully used weed-block (that spun black fabric) to shade the lettuces planted out in beds. I just stretched it over some metal hoop frames and used clothespins to tie it to the stakes. It is NOT PRETTY but gives me maybe another week on the lettuce. I hope that helps…

  18. Wow…that is awesome 🙂

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