You are a an integral part of not only the communities of Southwest Florida, but communities around the world. Though soils may be different, minds are no less passionate.
Enjoy this edition of the ECHO Community Gardens newsletter - sharing stories and garden ideas from unique agriculture projects of which you are a part.
POSTMARKED: Florida, USA
Global Garden, Avalon Elementary School, Naples, Florida
Walking down the hallway of Avalon Elementary you will find many of the usual indicators of an engaging educational curriculum—paintings from an art exercise, colorful paper cut-outs of the human skeletal system, and a mural of active students, to name a few. But through one set of double doors at the end of a hallway, the students at Avalon Elementary are introduced to a unique area that carries them away on a brightly-colored trek around the world, agriculturally speaking that is! It’s called the Global Garden.
Twenty-five raised bed boxes in hues of green, blue, yellow, and red fill a small area inside the school fence. The schoolyard is divided with plant borders into four different villages: Arid, Tropical, Agriculture, and Wetlands. On a walk though the garden today you will see tomatoes, summer squash, beans, beets, cabbage, and potatoes while smelling the diverse scents of plant blossoms such as popcorn cassia and a variety of herbs. A tall moringa tree is a favorite of the Global Garden students, as you may guess from their willingness to describe the flavor of its leaves and tell you of the nutritional benefits that result in its nickname, the "miracle tree!" Once a week, this area is teeming with young researchers and farmers, exploring the makeup of soil and plant life.
Who tends the garden? You might call it a community effort. For the past seven years, Naples Botanical Garden, a premiere tropical botanical garden in the United States, has sponsored an afterschool club for 28 fourth graders and 4 fifth grade students. The student to student relationship is quite unique. For each group of fourth graders, there is one fifth grade student who participated in the program during the previous year, that fills the role of a peer leader. How are students selected? Each student is selected based on their leadership skills and an expository essay. In addition to student leaders, the Global Garden program functions due to an additional component--volunteers. Mentorship is central to the functionality of this program, with volunteer gardeners who mentor groups of five to ten students.
“The goal of the Global Garden program is to teach life long gardening skills to the students,” say program Instructors and Garden Managers, Ms. Marianne Ravenna and Ms. Patti Thorsen. “Hopefully they will also develop a love for growing things and most importantly a desire to become stewards of our earth.” Ms. Thorsen is a teacher at Avalon Elementary and has worked with not only the school Administration but also Chad Washburn and several staff members from Naples Botanical Garden to create the quality program that is available for her students at Avalon Elementary.
As mentioned, a particularly special aspect of this garden project is the passion, excitement, and dedication of a diversity of volunteer "mentors"— local community members with an interest in sharing their time and knowledge with the students. Together, students and volunteers have created an exemplary hands-on experiential learning enviornment, literally a backyard classroom.
Undoubtedly, the students are eager to celebrate their garden success as the school year comes to an end. What will be involved? A harvest of all the vegetables and the preparation of a meal to share. Any extra produce will be sent home with the children for their families.
Their advice from the field? Ms. Marianne Ravenna, Instructor and Garden Manager, shares that a key to running a successful garden program is designating a garden manager who can oversee the day to day chores, volunteers and garden programs for the project. Organization can help to ensure the long-term sustainability of your project and cultivate opportunities for learning that develope much futher than each growing season.
Postmarked: Sudan, Africa
Bishop Ngalamu Theological College, Mundri, South Sudan
As the school day begins for children of Moru families, the sun’s rays creep over the hills, stretching the long expanses of northeastern Africa. Cultivating land is tradition and livelihood. It is in Sudan, particularly the southern region, where a small group of students are both learners and teachers within their community. It is a place known as Bishop Ngalamu Theological College.
Geographically, southern Sudan is flat. You will not encounter many rolling hills or mountainous regions, similar to the enviornment of southwest Florida, only the air is much more dry.
In an area of approximately one and a half acres, about the size of one and half football fields, the students at Bishop Ngalamu are cultivating crops - to learn, to consume, and to participate in the market. Beginning in April of 2010, the agricultural project at Bishop Ngalamu brought together a farmer, a hole digger, a handful of seeds, and a community of learners. The purpose of this project now is primarily to feed the students of the theological college one lunch meal per day and to provide an opportunity for the practice of agricultural principles, taught at the college. If there is extra left over from the harvest, it is usually sold locally in the market.
What is life like in this area? Several families in Mundri, this small town in southern Sudan, are subsistence farmers. The term "subsistence" describes a way of living in which a person grows only enough food for their family to eat, in addition to raising animals such as goats and chicken for an extra source of protein. It is a lifestyle, one's job, to provide food each meal of the day.
The students working in the gardens at Bishop Ngalamu face many challenges, as do their families and neighbors. What does this project mean to the community? An opportunity to practice hope. As a result of Sudan’s most recent civil war, many families were forced to flee their communities to open lands in the bush areas of the country. This meant a change in the food resources available. Tree leaves and berries became common foods in the family diet. Transitioning now back to a lifestyle of farming the land restored to them, many are motivated by the possibility of restoring hope to their people group as well.
With the opportunities provided through this garden project, these students have been able to work through the cultivation of crops over a complete yearly growing cycle-noting the differences and similarities as each enviornmental change occurs throughout the year. Learning from this years experiences, the students will build on their knowledge, encountering new challenges and resolving old issues as a new year begins.
As is important regardless of where you are growing food, it is important to celebrate your successes! Celebrations occur in gardens all throughout Mundri, especially just before the begining of planting season. For some individuals, this typically includes a time of anticipating the goodness of a harvest and a time of asking for God's blessing over each seed and the avaialble water resources.
One unique aspect of this agricultural project is that it has provided an opportunity for students and community members to experiment with different ways of cooking the garden produce. Trainings were held in the garden as well as in the kitchen: an opportunity to teach how to plant, harvest, and cook with some of the vegetables—in particular, moringa! Any day, a neighbor may walk past the gardens at Bishop Ngalamu to have a look at the latest planted seedling or to ask a question to those who are working. Even younger children join in with expressions of curiosity to help pick out rocks or harvest sunflower seeds and soybeans. What will be next this upcoming rainy season? Perhaps an abundance of groundnuts, maize, sweet potatoes, sesame, and different green leafy vegetables!
Inspired by these stories?
Check out the ECHO Community Garden Assistance Program!
Garden Connections: Resources & Thoughts
Helpful tips for fun, creative solutions to preparing your garden
No Students this summer? Consider planting a cover crop in each garden bed to continue building up healthy soil life with minimal labor inputs. Plant suggestions? Sweet potatoes, tropical pumpkins, or macuna will help reduce weeds and provide a fun harvest during the start of a new schoolyear!
Designs in the Garden: Encourage creativity in the next garden plan! Here's one idea to inspire: The "Salsa Bed" is a raised bed planted with cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, garlic chives, and cilantro.
Saving Raindrops? With the rainy season approaching, design a rain barrel from an old trash can, window screen, and 1/2" sediment faucet. Rain barrels are great canvases for creative paintings by students as well!
Classroom Focus: Concerned about Hunger?
Garden Mosaics is an exciting, interactive website resource for the integration of science, culture, and intergenerational knoweldge, based in the context of community and schoolyard gardens. Check it out here: http://www.gardenmosaics.cornell.edu/index.htm