Not long ago I did a review of The Family Kitchen Garden which I found a good extension of my excitement about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. British Jamie, you might recall, did a show on national television about our schoolchildren eating a healthier diet, and creating gardens at schools is a solid way to introduce such new eating habits. I then heard from blogger Liz of the blog Nutty Gnome in the UK who is involved in a school garden project in Chesterfield and I immediately invited her to write a guest post about her project, hoping it might inspire both teachers and children to think of beginning such a project in their own schools. Following is her fascinating and very inspiring report! I particularly like that the students in this school were boys potentially at risk, and the gardening project gave them a focus where they could engage, and that made a difference, as we gardeners might expect!
Love and blessings,
Footnote: Liz has posted a lovely second post about a primary school in the UK which also has a school garden here.
Following Kathryn’s recent post on Jamie Oliver and school gardens – and my comments about the school gardens projects in the secondary school where I am a Governor, and in our partner primary schools, Kathryn very kindly asked me to do a guest post about it. So here it is!
To put things into context, I thought that a bit of background might be helpful. I live in Chesterfield, which is in the county of North East Derbyshire in the middle of Britain (level with Manchester and just below Sheffield on the map). It is a beautiful, picturesque old market town where most of the heavy industry such as mining has closed down. It has some very prosperous areas and some very deprived areas within its boundaries.
The school I am involved with is Parkside Community School. It is a smaller than average sized secondary school of around 500 students aged 11-16. It sits in one of the most deprived areas in both the town and the County and is 46th out of 47 County secondary schools in terms of its social and economic deprivation levels, but its Value Added score is 2nd highest in the County (the Value Added score is the difference between the exam grades students are predicted to get and what they actually get). It is a fantastic school of which I am very proud to be a Governor.
One of our great achievements is the development of the gardening projects. There are currently two ongoing projects which began last year and one new project done in conjunction with the adjoining junior school which has started this year.
Parkside prides itself on knowing all its students well and in offering a personalised curriculum wherever possible. All students follow the core curriculum subjects of English, Maths and Sciences, but have the opportunity to follow an alternative or vocational curriculum as well. It is well known in Britain that boys in secondary education do less well than girls and can become disengaged from learning. Some of the boys involved in the gardening projects were disengaged, disruptive and close to being excluded from school (a process we do not take lightly). Some of the other boys were quiet underachievers who needed confidence building to support their learning.
The first project was the development of a ‘dead’ space behind ‘B’ block – the Science and Design Technology block. This area was an eyesore – messy, desperately overgrown, unused and unloved. Over several cold, damp winter days of 2008, the boys and staff cleared the area, broke through the old tarmac base to provide drainage, built a greenhouse, built raised beds, carted in 25 tonnes of top soil by hand (because the area has two flights of steps to negotiate to get to it) and worked on their planting plans. Unfortunately school didn’t photograph the area before the work began, but these are the earliest photos we do have and shows it partway through the transformation.
The area is north/south facing, bounded on the south and west by buildings and by a bowling green on the east – how terribly British!
Greenhouse frame being erected
Spring 2009. The main raised beds go round the south and east sides of the garden. Other raised beds were created centrally, the flags laid around the fruit trees, a BBQ and table were built and an old bench rescued and renovated. Two boys, Jake and Matt, who were then in Year 9 (i.e., 14 years old) took over the running of this garden supported by Julie–a Teaching Assistant in school who has no previous knowledge of gardening. She did the initial planning, but the decisions about what to plant, and where, now come from the boys, with a little guidance from Julie who has had what she descibes as “the most amazing learning curve” about gardening, but obviously she has green fingers!
Matt, Julie and Jake in front of their new raised beds and trellising
The garden is amazing – I was absolutely gobsmacked when I went to see it, [Gobsmacked is Yorkshire for amazed and speechless! ‘gob’ = mouth!] and it’s not very often that I’m lost for words!
This year they have planted:
Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, broad beans, brussel sprouts, runner beans, peas, beetroot, leeks, spring onions, lettuce, radish, spinach, chard, courgette, cucumber, peppers, chilli, rhubarb, two beds of cosmos and pansies. They also have two apple tees, two plum trees, two cherry trees, sweet peas, plus raspberries and blackcurrants.
The boys feel that they have been transformed by the scheme. They were previously both disengaged and disinterested in academic learning. One was close to being permanently excluded from school for what he describes as an ongoing habit of doing daft and disruptive things that everyone got fed-up with. The other was quieter but ‘had his moments’ – as he put it! Now in Year 10, they are immensely proud of what they’ve achieved – and rightly so. They have set up a gardening company and Jake wants to go on to do a Land-Based Studies course at college.
Jake, Julie and Matt with this year’s crop!
Raised beds with painted railway sleepers
The produce from the garden is sold into the community at the summer fair and to staff and parents throughout the growing season. The pansies will be sold in plant pots painted by some Y9 girls as part of a science project. The original idea was to sell everything to the school kitchen, but that proved problematic last year for a wide variety of reasons, although negotiations are under way with the new Head Cook. We feel that it is important for our young people to have the link between growing, cooking and eating healthy foods, so we’re working hard to ensure this happens!
The proceeds from produce sales are ploughed back into the project to make it sustainable. In September Jake and Matt will begin to work with new trainee gardeners from lower down the school, to pass on their skills and ensure the continuity of the project before they leave school.
The most recent innovation is that our Site Manager has managed to acquire some bark chippings free from somewhere and they will be used to cover the remaining hard surfaces and give a softer feel to the area.
The second project is not quite as advanced as this one because the Teacher and Teaching Assistant involved have less time to commit to it because of their timetabled classes. However, it has involved up to 8 boys, mainly from Years 8 and 9, who have learnt the practical applications of maths as they have, under supervision: laid a concrete base for the shed (twice – because the shed had to be moved!), laid paving slabs, installed taps, helped construct the polytunnels, made raised beds in the polytunnels and outside – and worked out the volume of soil required to fill them, harvested rainwater via water butts they installed, and sited the compost bins – which take compost from the Food Technology classroom behind the garden. The boys now want to repaint the shed “because it’s a bit girlie!”, make a pond and build a herb garden.
Tying up tomatoes
There was some reluctance to be photographed, but I think the boys deserve all the credit for producing a great small garden from scratch ….and I wish I could lay flagstones as well as they have!
They all feel that they have benefited from the project, not just by “getting out of lessons!” as one boy said, but by seeing maths in action, having something that they could see develop as they worked, learning practical skills, working as a team.
Posted on June 30th, 2010 by Kathryn
Filed under: Guest Bloggers