High School Community Garden – An Epic Failure

Students creating Community Garden, April 2011Every year when I began to work on my home garden, I am reminded of the most amazing project that I initiated at the high school where I teach. A couple of years ago, a fellow teacher and I decided to start a community garden. It seemed like a great way to introduce a bunch of high school kids to organic farming, off the grid farming, community spirit, volunteerism, and hard work.  Now – how many high school students would sign up for something that involved manual labour out of school hours?  It turned out that many students would – 30 ish.  So, we wrote and received grants, rented a plough, bought top soil, made 24 2m x 6m beds, bought seed and tomato plants & cages, shovels, hoes, wheel barrows, water barrels.  The one thing we did not have was a fence.  OK, I was ready to accept that perhaps the pumpkins and tomatoes would be stolen. Students spent a full weekend creating the space.  My favorite part was a circular herb garden that was divided like a spoked wheel.  Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, dill, sage, chives. The commitment of those students was quite remarkable.  A staff member was so inspired that she bought two apple trees to commemorate her father, who had been an avid gardener.  Two senior citizens that lived in an apartment building across the street saw the activity, and asked to garden two plots each.  That was thrilling, because in the back of my mind was a burning question:  who was going to look after things in the summer? The area we had cultivated was a reclaimed weed patch.  Weeds?  Water?  Summer? no students?  Hmmm.  Well, we harvested a lot of radishes before the summer holiday.  The students were amazed. That was cool. Everything was healthy and growing well. The sunflowers were up, peppers, pumpkin, melons were all doing well, garlic and onions were awesome. Back to the pressing problem of the summer holiday.  So, my kid had football practice at the school four days/week.  I decided that one day a week I would drive him to practice and weed the darn garden.  By mid-summer, the weeds were as tall as the sunflowers. I really wanted a sickle (I have a MSc in agriculture, and had harvested my canola with a sickle).  Ready to improvise, I started cutting weeds down with a machete my son bought in Costa Rica. BTW – his friends at football practice asked what I was on.  My boy was so embarrassed. We live to embarrass our children! So where is the epic failure in all this?  The problem was lack of a fence.  Within two weeks, someone stole the water barrels.  Not surprising.  They were not attached to anything. The really messed up thievery was the apple trees.  Somebody actually dug up two 10-foot apple trees and carted them off. In September, we harvested a few cherry tomatoes, and the sunflowers were glorious.  For fun, I had planted 6 different sunflower cultivars.  But.

But in the end, the lack of a fence meant that the garden was not sustainable. The students learned a lot, and those who did the work, reminisce about the garden when they come back and visit. There are pictures on the wall that celebrate the attempt.  But.

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