My house backs onto a school field- about 5 acres worth, on a south-facing slope surrounded by woodland. The school use an acre of it for playing sports- but that's it. They won't sell it to me- but they would be interested in starting a 'school garden' sort of program- assuming I do all the work and involve the school kids (ages 7 to 12). In my head I see this as me basically renting land, and having a veggie garden and maybe chickens/ducks, perhaps a polytunnel, a load of fruittrees. In reality.. what am I looking at? Probably lots of writing to ask for equipment/grants/sponsors for local businesses. I imagine a lot of weeding. I have loads of ideas of things I'd like to implement- bug hotels, hedgehog boxes, herb spiral, veggie beds, forest garden... in reality I guess I'd be doing all the work on my own.
I already have a small veggie garden, I already keep a small number chickens, I already have lots of (young) fruit trees on rented land- but at a distance from my house and on land that is likely to be sold for housing in the next 5 years. I work full time. I don't have kids, and my only qualification regarding children is that I was one once.
On the upside I get involved in the local community. I get all the veggies and eggs over the summer holidays- from the land right behind my house. I get to teach the kids organic and permie sort of stuff. I could set up wildlife cameras and bird and bat boxes everywhere. I could grow cider apples and perry pears and mulberries- trees too big for my tiny 1/10th acre plot. I get to 'rent' land without paying any actual rent in money, and in theory I wouldn't spend a tonne of my money in setting it up either (just lots of time and effort!).
I would like land- but I want to keep bees and pigs, which isn't going to happen on school land. But I will never own my own land (2.3 acres round here is up for £100K! With no potential to get planning permission and actually live there.)
Any experience in school gardens? Working with schools as a not-otherwise-affiliated person living nearby? Working with children? I'm not sure if this is an insane idea or a good one!
(apologies if this is the wrong forum, I wasn't sure where it would fit best)
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
posted 4 years ago
I love the thought of school gardens - they can be a great way to indoctrinate children into gardening and healthy eating. However, most school gardens that I have seen, all suffered from the same flaw:
School is let out for the summer months. When most annual vegetable gardening takes place. You need to figure a way to get the kids to 'come to school' during the summer holidays.
The upside to this flaw may be that most of the work is done during the spring months. If the kids do most of the labor, then lose interest before harvest time, you may end up with a surplus of fresh food.
The high school in our neighborhood does this and my wife knows the person responsible (both are potters).
It really does seem to come down to one person, as you seem to anticipate. The school incorporates the garden into activities and tries to give the kids a feeling of ownership by having them create signs and whatnot. But there's a single "owner" responsible for making things happen. She's a teacher at the school, so she's already involved, but she also benefits by getting more produce than she can deal with at harvest time. We visited the garden at her invitation and she basically said: take as much as you want.
In terms of cash outlay, it doesn't seem that there was actually that much money involved, especially compared to sports and other school activities. That garden uses lots of mulch to control weeds and they seem to be pretty careful about selecting varieties for easy growing, too. The mulch they use appears to be the same recycled leaves and wood that our city government sells cheap to homeowners, which presumably means it's free for city schools. The implements they use are all pretty old and beat up, which suggests to me private donations or retired municipal gear. In short, it seems like the sort of thing that didn't require much to get started, except of course for permission, and which a person could build up slowly over time. Perhaps your situation could provide similar opportunities and you could make small investments (time, money) spread out over a few years.
Having extra space to experiment with means you can do things like buy cheap trees or start lots of seedlings and select those that do well, and of course getting a lower production/area ratio isn't a problem when you've got plenty of area. It strikes me that you pretty much can't go wrong, based on what you've written so far. Good luck!
I'm nervous about it because my last 'community endevour' went a bit wrong. I joined an allotment, and joined the 'allotment association' that runs the site, we're attempting to build some composting toilets on site- which you'd think would be a good thing! But there's a small minority of people who don't like the commitee- there's been threates (both intimidating and of the legal 'we'll sue you' kind), they threatened to change the locks and the police had to be called, peoples stuff has been smashed and sprayed with weed killer, waterbutts turned over.. it is ridiculous. Someone wrote 'cow' on my allotment-post-sign (I wrote 'moo' back). I've been called names, sworn and shouted at by people who don't know me and have never met me. For trying to build toilets!
So yes.. slightly nervous about how it could go wrong. The allotment-people don't know where I live- as I live some distance away. The school people would be right next door! Though I wouldn't have thought teachers would stoop to quite the same level as the people at the allotment.
What a great opportunity! Grow your own is the vogue, make the most of it!
You mention you work full time. Is there any overlap between the kid's schooltime and your presence on the site? How far from the school do the kids live?
Our association started a school&community garden 2 years ago, each class that wants to participate gets a bed of 2,5m by 1m (1m of path around) which is enough for activities and also keeps the kids close together. Each class has a mentor from the assocation to advise the teacher & follow up on weeding, harvesting, watering and such. Some garden with the class, some not, depending on the capabilities of the teacher. If they can handle it, they can have more space. We have had much success with pumpkins (the classes stay together for 2 consecutive school years), potatoes and mixed veg. One class sowed a surprise packet of unknown seed mix which was fun and a great discovery of lesser known plants! The kids also benefit from just exploring what everybody else have planted.
About two thirds of the garden is cultivated by members that live max. 5min on foot (so the garden is in their zone 1 or 2). This ensures frequent visits to the garden and community building. Even so, our challenge is to get everyone together for decisions and work parties. The space per gardener depends on their time constraints and their ability. Better get a newbie started with 5m2 and move on from there. We have some communal beds and share tools, turning the compost heap, and weeding of paths.
The fund-raising and building of infrastucture was a great way to build the core team! In fact, there was a great desire of parents to work with the school and most of the members have children whose class gardens with us. Parents make also the most obvious mentors. (Cash wise, the 600m2 cost us less than 4000 CHF, most of which fencing)
What are your goals with this venture? Do you just want to have a bigger garden for yourself, what else do you gain from working with the school? How much time can you invest, and when? Are there any other people that might want to join you?
What does the school gain from working with you? What are their constraints (in England the school grounds are often fenced in to prevent outsiders from entering)? Who owns the land? What costs do they currently have? Do they have an educational budget for gardening/nature activities? Any particular curriculum demands a garden would help to meet (strong argument that!)? I like to say that a school garden is like a computer in the classroom, amazing tool if you know how to use it. Is there board of governors or parent's associtation you can talk to?
Do think about the needs/desires of the neighbours. If they gain from the project, the can be a wonderful resource and support. And you will gain from it personally too as you live there.
I found by talking to the people affected and finding out THEIR needs they are more ready to get on board. (this approach got us sponsoring from the local shops too!)
In my case, my desire were to have a "play space" because our allotment rules are very strict, to garden with the classes of my kids in school, and to build community. I planned most of the garden and am the reference person for gardening techniques (I hardly get to do anything other than answer questions when I'm in the garden). I also liaise with the teachers, which means sending out sign-up forms, matching classes with beds and mentors, and a meeting in February after school with the teachers for feed-back and planning.
Good luck with you project! Don't worry too much about the people side - you will be starting from scratch, so you can set the tone and also the content. I enjoy the school&community garden so much more than the allotment because the atmosphere is so much more pleasant. You may discover some wonderful people in their neighbourhood with a similar vision. The kind of behaviour you describe form the allotment is unlikely, you are not intruding upon another's territory.
You sound like how we started out 6 years ago. Honey, this is a touchy ground to walk on for sure. If you want to do good for others one needs to remember the neighborhood mentality. There is always jealous people that want to hurt what they don't understand. If everyone felt and thought like you and I then the world would not be so twisted with jealousy and hate. We are lucky to have the neighbors we have. Many of them are supportive of our efforts to build this campus much like you described and the others are just quiet with no real opinion yet. We love our neighborhood and I think that is the key to success. If you love your home and neighbors you can do a lot with them possibly even getting involved too in a more positive way. If you are in a tight minded neighborhood then you have your work cut out for you in spades. I wish you all the blessings in the world for that endeavor of yours no matter what you choose to do. It sounds like you are the kind of person I could like as a friend. cheers!