Recently my school was invited to a professional development day, meaning we were all obligated to pick from a host of seminars to sit in for the day. I passed up the reading and writing related seminars for Urban Gardening and Mindfulness in the Classroom – both of which ended up being great choices.
For the Urban Gardening information session, we were bussed to a neighboring international school (Chadwick) to chat with two teachers there who started the school garden about four years back. They covered the resources they used to set up their garden as well as integrating the garden into various learning standards for the students.
The garden itself was a project designed by students, so the layout of the garden was a learning opportunity. The school also grows the plants from seed rather than buying starters. They said this saves money, but didn’t catch if they use this as curriculum too. I’d imagine this step could be incorporated into an elementary science unit.
The chicken coop was built by students and an art project about graffiti led to student-created decorations on the outside of the chicken coop.
The chickens are an annual project, hatched by the 2nd grade class every year. With the annual influx of brand new chicks, slaughtering the chickens has also become an elective experience for older students, and the students who volunteer at the garden every year attend a garden lunch where they eat all of the garden produce, and the chickens. The vegetarian in me was sad about this, but reasoned that if kids are going to eat meat, it’s good for them to work for it and know exactly where it comes from, without any illusions.
The leaders of the program patiently answered all of our questions, sharing the creative ways they have used resources for the garden. Tires serve as raised planters for potatoes, and tires can be stacked to create more room as the potatoes grow. This garden is on a roof with a limited amount of soil on top, so they’ve had to work hard with fertilizer to create growable soil, but said it’s still not the best. They use signs (those huge signs in Korea strung up everywhere and then cut down and left to languish on the sidewalk) to prevent weeds instead of laying down plastic. Their garden was huge, but they gave us a lot of ideas for downsizing to start a garden of our own.
The Chadwick garden even tried their hand at raising bees, but both of the hives they tried failed. They surmised that his was due to a lack of flowers in the area – they are in a much more built-up, urban area than we are in Cheongna without nearly as many flowering plants. If this is the reason their hives failed, we might actually be able to make it work in Cheongna, if we were brave enough. They did mention that the bees in Korea are very mild, and they would even work with the bees without any protective gear, although they kept the hive separate from students in case of allergy issues.
It’d be really nice to start a garden at our school; we scoped out a few rooftop gardens we already have, but they are completely dead and it looks like the soil is super shallow. We’re thinking about trying to start one outside, where wheelbarrow all of the extra horse poo out every weekend to dump it because they don’t seem to know what else to do with it (this might be somewhat systematic – they tend to pile it around trees – but there’s also just a giant mound in one corner of the field). Maybe this would make good soil? Who knows. We got a lot of good ideas but all of the teachers here who are interested have zero experience with actually making things grow. Two of us (i.e. me) even killed succulents this year.
The best thing about the garden was the community effort. The standards that are incorporated range from primary to high school, and there are jobs for any age students who want to help. The garden also incorporates compost from the Middle and High School lunches, so everyone in the community is involved in one way or another. Hopefully we’ll get approval from administration to give it a go. Although at first we should probably leave out the chickens. And the bees.