What better way to ensure that gardens are sustainable over time than to teach the next generations? School gardens make a lot of sense for many reasons, and it’s no surprise there has been an absolute surge in them not only nationwide but all over metro-Atlanta. The problem? Most members of my generation never learned how to do this when we were kids! In fact, traditional gardening skills have skipped not one, not two, but on their way to three generations. That means that many teachers, administrators, school board members, and a whole lot of parents simply have no idea how to create, tend, harvest, and sustain a garden. We are truly all in this together, which isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it can be the basis of an exciting adventure and a memorable learning experience for children and adults alike.
Here are some suggestions I have for you for accepting this reality as you aim to start or enliven a school garden:
1. Let the kids know if you don’t know what you’re doing. Seriously. How amazing it is for students to see that learning is a lifelong pursuit, you are never too old to learn new things, and the grown-ups don’t have all the answers this time!
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You’re about to make a lot of them, and each one will help build a hands-on body of knowledge that you and the students will truly own. Be sure everyone involved knows that mistakes are inevitable so that you can manage expectations. Treat everything like an experiment, try things more than one way at the same time, and measure and compare results.
3. Use your resources. Starting a new garden when you’ve never done it before presents an opportunity to demonstrate for the children how to access multiple resources–books, videos, fellow teachers who are a bit ahead of you, local experts, and don’t forget grandparents who may be thrilled to have their expertise tapped and be an important part of their grandchild’s school experience. You may even have a student or two whose families are avid home or community gardeners and can be class leaders in the school garden.
4. Laugh. Enjoy yourself out there. Don’t take things so seriously that kids are afraid of their shadows. Be careful not to get so hung up on teaching the life-cycle of a bean that you forget about the life-cycle of a child and that the joy of doing something new is one of the most important lessons of all.
Farmer D Organics is a trusted local expert resource for many metro-Atlanta school gardens. Many school garden leaders have found that starting with Farmer D raised beds, soil, and fertilizer helps them be successful faster. Some go on to create their own compost from lunch or snack scraps, and learn how to build their own beds when they expand, and they appreciate having an attractive, productive point of comparison in the Farmer D Organics beds for years to come.
Also, Farmer D Organics can share best practices from other school gardens about what types of plants seem to work best in school environments and for the school growing seasons. You may also want to consider a “teach the teacher” session where Farmer D Organics helps build knowledge and confidence in teachers so that they feel more comfortable fully embracing their new school garden.
Hint: If you are starting or enlivening a school garden this fall, you want to aim to have it planted by around September 15 so that you don’t miss the fall growing season.
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