Q: As part of our school’s greening initiative, we want to start a garden in the school yard. Any tips or resources? Lynn S.
I am an avid gardener, and I love this idea! However, I will give a few cautionary notes (and I speak from experience as you will see below).
We decided to put a “Learning Garden” in my sons’ elementary school yard after the playground equipment was torn out. This was a school council (ie. mostly parents) project, and the principal at the time, who had just come from another school with a volunteer-run garden, said that the garden was great while the organizing parents were at the school. However, when their kids graduated, there was no succession planning, and the garden became a bit of a mess.
Of course, we never thought that would happen at our school, but we did run into a few challenges (including loss of interest among volunteers). The main issues are:
- Summer maintenance and access to water source when the school is closed. You need super-reliable volunteers who are willing to commit to caring for the garden over the summer. We assigned people specific weeks for their watering/weeding/maintenance duties, which seemed to help a bit.
- Parents lose interest after their kids graduate (which is natural), so it is important to keep growing (pun intended!) interest and recruiting new volunteers – ideally, get neighbours involved – it is easier for people who live close to commit. And target kindergarten parents – you’ll have them for longer!
- Also get teacher buy-in – teachers are super-busy, so if you can give them a few simple, grade-appropriate activities to do in the garden, and tell them about some of the benefits (eg. Creative new ways to teach science curriculum, physical activity outdoors leads to better focus in the class, etc.), they are more likely to get engaged. Try to recruit a teacher at the school who is passionate about gardening, as they will be a huge asset – they can help with the curriculum connections and getting other teachers involved.
With committed volunteers and school staff, I think you can make it work – the ‘keeping it going’ is the hard part. When interest started to flag, we held BBQs and garden parties to get people out to help – maybe, if you are growing vegetables, volunteers can be given a bit of the produce to take home as an incentive to help out.
One of the cool projects that one class did was a “three sisters” planting. They studied First Nations agricultural methods, then planted corn, beans and squash (the “three sisters”). They started the seeds in the class, and then planted them in the garden. You may want to reserve part of the garden for class projects like this (even better if you can provide teachers with some class project ideas like this one – again, they’ll be more likely to do things if they are provided with easy ideas).
There are several organizations that work with schools to increase their environmental awareness:
• Evergreen Foundation provides funding for greening projects at schools, and I think they have other good resources and information on their website: www.evergreen.ca
• Green Communities Canada may also have info (and possibly funding, but I’m not sure) for green community projects: http://greencommunitiescanada.org
• Trees Ontario offers tree-planting initiatives: www.treesontario.ca
• Ontario EcoSchools offer a program whereby schools can apply for an eco-school designation (it requires some commitment from staff and parents): www.ontarioecoschools.org