Summer Garden Training: Sharing Expertise and Best Practices

On a hot summer morning, a “Garden Training Crash Course” was held at Changemaker High School by Claudio Rodriguez, School Garden Coordinator at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Teachers and students were able to come together to teach each other and share how school gardens benefit schools and build community.

Classroom full of Tucson educators that use a vegetable garden in their daily lessons.

The course began by introducing ourselves, our names, our reasons for attending, and what we hoped to share or learn. It wasn’t hard to tell that everyone sitting in unity had an undying passion to not only garden but see the community around them flourish.

After brief introductions the guest presenter, Oscar Medina, launched into material on urban agriculture and restoration ecology in the classroom. The class offering a ten-week program specially made for his students to set a foundation of using resources around them while taking into account the ecosystem they are gardening in. The ten-week program allows students to learn multiple techniques through 30-minute lessons providing vocabulary and terms with definitions, pictures, diagrams, and videos. After lessons are given students are able to get their hands dirty and practice what they have been taught.

Promptly after the presentation, a garden tour was given to the visitors by Mr. Medina with the assistance of his students. The tour allowed visitors to see the permaculture site design, along with student projects such as the chicken coop and composting center, which all were serving multiple sustainable purposes helping the school garden thrive. He explained the concepts and tasks students have to keep in mind while gardening, and most importantly, not being afraid to “fail forward” through taking a gamble with gardening.

Mr. Medina talking about rainwater harvesting and plant water demand in the terrace garden at Changemaker High School

After the tour, Melissa from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, casually presented on soil fertility. Intriguing the audience with all her knowledge of soil, she went on to explain the importance of knowing the soil you’re growing on because of its ability to sustain agricultural plant growth. Explaining different soil textures and particle sizes, she was able to connect these lessons to games for children in efforts to bring gardening into classrooms.

Brandon and Alex, also from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona enlighten the participants with more information on lessons about vermicomposting. Through composting, Brandon and Alex were able to teach about different cycles and social issues such as waste management, green house gases and much more. Talking about composting can be challenging, but this pair of young people are able to teach children as young as kindergarten to understand complexities, through simpler terms, fun activities, and diagrams to engage their young audience. They explained compost as replenishing what has been taken and putting it back into the soil; a compost pile makes a home for micro organisms. Phrased this way educators can elaborate easily on the food, water, and oxygen and conditions they need to function in their home.

People were able to connect over lunch and talk about what they’re doing at their schools; Claudio Rodriguez talked about growing a healthy garden. He was able to explain that surely enough, gardening can fit the Arizona Common Core Curriculum, whether it be math, science, social studies, art, music or any other subject. Not only does education play into gardening, but everyone's well being does too, due to the stress levels that can be calmed down through surrounding one’s self in a garden setting. Health and nutrition can also be taught through gardening, and through cooking the edibles that are being grown on campus. To prove this he then handed out a paper with two seed packets, showing that many lessons can be incorporated with a single packet. He asked the audience to find lessons that could be taught, such as measurements, science experiments of germination, vocabulary expansion and much more.

Molly Reed, a teacher that works at Borton Primary Magnet School, took the group outside and showed them the tools and techniques she uses to plant a fun, organized garden. She drew lines with the use of a recycled stick, to help students know how far apart to plant seeds and wood pallets with holes to guide her younger students where to plant. Other things are used such as journals and charts, to record seed growth, seasonal changes, and seed differences. After gardening, discussions and opinions are heard, giving all her students a voice.

Claudio Rodriguez sharing seeds and teachers planting the three sisters (corn, bean, and squash)

Just as engaging students is important, volunteers and family engagement are important to a healthy, thriving garden too. Drachman Montessori teacher, Amy Flores, spoke about volunteer recruitment and management. Recruiting within the community and school is vital. However, how one chooses to recruit volunteers, whether it be through flyers, door knocking, or through social media, are all fine just as long as there is good communication. She continues to go on about engaging with your volunteers and hosting a fun event for them with food, music and other things to get them to come back again. Funding is vital to have the proper materials to accomplish a goal. Often times companies and organizations are willing to help fund and also send volunteers for events. It is important to keep school and district policies and good agricultural practices in mind to keep the volunteers and children safe. Lastly, she brought to everyone’s attention that volunteer appreciation is very essential to keeping a strong volunteer group.

At the end of the course, feedback and thoughts were shared with facilitators in hopes of making the next course even better. In the end, it wasn’t hard to tell that, everyone has something to offer and gain.

Educators and students from Tucson and Nogales who participated in the summer gardening course at Changemaker High School.

This story is part of a Storytelling for Changemakers program for Changemaker Schools activated in partnership with Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Start Empathy. Individual views expressed in this blog are from individuals, and not representative of Ashoka, Start Empathy, or Youth Venture.