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Thoughts About Starting School Gardens

Here's and email I sent to someone about school gardens:

Dear Annie,

I am seeking the same myself—the school I worked in with an after school program is in need of it.  The school board cancelled funding for the after school thing (CLC) and now my babies will be "flappin' in the breeze"!  So, we must come up w/ a bunch of volunteers and funds, all volunteer, while I'm also trying to build a business.

So, where are you in the process?  I am grateful for your communication, as it has prodded me to put all this down on "paper" for the first time.  Where are you geographically?  Here are some resources I am aware of:

I have not yet contacted Alice Waters' bunch, you have probably seen her page for the Edible Schoolyard:
http://www.edibleschoolyard.org/homepage.html

Also National Gardening Association has grants:
http://www.kidsgardening.com/

Are you a Garden Club member?  Master Gardener?  These are people who can help you with all of this, in many ways.  Let them have input because they Know what they're talking about.  Especially the older ones who may be retired and have TIME.

National Garden Clubs has a slightly related program:
 
(http://www.gardenclub.org/SpecialProjects/SchoolGardens.aspx)

The Agriculture Extension Services and Junior Master Gardeners:
http://www.jmgkids.us/index.k2?did=2025§ionID=2019
(Don't forget 4-H.)

Look at "The Kids Can Press Jumbo Book of Gardening."  At first perusal, it looks pretty good.

You have to be sure the teachers are all provided with lesson plans that tie your project to their required curriculum.  Otherwise they
won't have time (or realize they have time) to even take the kids outside. So find someone who is familiar with it, like the "Assistant
Superintendent for Science Education" or whatever they call it in your district.

Most of what I bring is experience working with children in the garden.

1)  Assemble a presentation board with pictures to appeal to children and adults.  Take it around to everyone—PTA especially. Unless you can devote full-time to this, get a committed committee. Even if you can—the more people who have a sense of ownership, the better.

2)  Get your Principal enthusiastically on board.  If he/she is even lukewarm, it will be a stressful disappointment for everyone.

3)  Get the school lunch people on board—enthusiastically.  They can break you or they can make it happen.  They are really cool people and if you respect their experience and knowledge they will help you big-time.  They haven to function under all kinds of rules that are really hard to get changed.  They get Federal money and State money that comes with huge strings attached.  If they don't do such and such this way, they loose funding or get written up.  I think we  should be able to find stuff written in their professional journals about this trend.  And there is probably a gardener on the staff at your school!

4)  Planning—You will work out the site w/ Principal and head custodian.  Agree on basic design.  Don't forget water.  Access, and
control of it.  Sun.  Soil—schoolyard clay isn't often very fertile.Shade (it's really hard to get kids to pay attention when they think
they are too hot and the glare won't even let them keep their eyes open.)  Paths that aren't muddy or hazardous.  The mess it will look if you rely on the kids for the maintenance!  The teachers are already stretched too far.  Raised beds w/ a hard edge are easiest to keep weeded.  They dry out quickly.  Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are almost a requirement, unless you live on the Olympic Peninsula.  And where will you store all that STUFF?   Call Miss Utility or whomever to make sure you don't cause TROUBLE.  They are free.  See if you can get a donation from them while you are at it.

5)  Have a person who's time is dedicated to raising money, mostly through grants and donations from local organizations and businesses. (That way you can use pre-fab edging and rainbarrels and compost bins, and get real tools and GLOVES.)  Of course, some people can use recycled and donated mis-matched stuff and make a silk purse of it, but until your plants are grown in, it usually looks an eyesore and that fact can cancel the whole project before your first harvest! Neatness counts.  After they have experienced the wonder of an evolving garden, they will be more tolerant of process.

6)   That's how children learn.  By participation in a process.  The PROCESS of gardening.  To them, the harvest is so far away, they have to enjoy the process.  And that's what a garden is—the management of an interdependency of life processes.  The step of having faith in the fruition of a process, a real result, is a giant step in growing up. 5 year-olds usually cannot make that intellectual leap—they just aren't there yet.  But a garden awakens that realization in them. Even more exciting than watching a garden take shape and bear fruit, is watching a child do so.

Good luck, and may God bless your project.  I hope you have time to share some of your thoughts with me.

Sincerely,
Connie