School Garden Initiative 2008: A Lovely Morning of Worms and Dirt

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By Tamara Mitchell, Executive Director, Foothill Collaborative for Sustainability (FoCuS) NEWS RELEASE
September 21, 2008

Early Friday morning, sun rising in the east and hint of Autumn in the air, kids bound out of the school buildings at Sierra Waldorf School in Jamestown, dash to the school garden, and join hands in a circle. They then listen intently as Lee Ann Fox and Meredith Dean unfold the secret life of red worms. The children listen eagerly and ask many questions about how worms live, what they eat, what they do to enrich the soil, and how to help worms lead a happy, healthy life.

During the worm lesson, a large truck backs into the area and leaves a load of fresh compost in the garden. Jason Diestel, Director of Sustainability, Diestel Humus Compost & Diestel Family Turkey Ranch explains to the children how manure from the Diestel Family Turkey Ranch is mixed with pine needles and other organic matter and then digested by microbes to create beautiful compost for use in gardens that supports microlife and feeds the roots of plants. This special Austrian method, called the Lubke method, creates compost in just 10 weeks that normally would take 100 years to generate.

The kids dive into the pile of compost, or humus, which is now completely decomposed and sterile, then grab spades to help move it from the pile to the garden beds. At the same time, Eric, Christine, and Meredith work to construct large worm bins from salvaged metal and wood adjacent to the gardens. Some kids stand by the worm bucket and continue to ask Lee Ann questions about worm behavior and biology. A nearby greenhouse made from salvaged wood, houses tiny seedlings of winter crops like pak choy, mizuna, and cabbage which will be planted and raised by the children in the coming months.

This is all part of a program called the School Gardens Initiative, a chapter (seed group) of the Foothill Collaborative for Sustainability (FoCuS). The garden at Sierra Waldorf School was started two years ago and a similar garden at Michelson in Murphys is now in full swing. The school gardens provide a hands-on, participatory way to bring learning outdoors. It connects the children with nature, provides good exercise, an opportunity to learn healthy eating habits, life skills in sustainable living, and even business skills. Proceeds from the sale of seedlings from these schools last year was significant enough to hire a part-time roving school coordinator for this year. The program is headed by Eric and Christine Taylor of Taylor Mountain Farms in Douglas Flat. They have been sustainable farmers in Calaveras County since 1993, run a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food distribution program, operate two farmers markets in Calaveras County, and are busy parents as well. Eric is the President of FoCuS and Christine serves on the Board of Directors.

Labor and planning of the garden layout, installing watering systems, building the greenhouse, and other infrastructure is all directed by the Taylors with cooperation from parents and teachers. The new roving school garden coordinator will be able to work with school staff to incorporate the garden into more of the school curriculum and work closely with the kids in their leaning experiences. A grant available to all schools for $2500 through the California Department of Education provides the seed money for buying initial materials for the watering system, fencing, compost and tools.

Further donations from FoCuS members, interested parents, fundraising events, and proceeds from the sale of seedlings also allow for growth of the garden program. If you would like your school to add a school garden program, have the principle or superintendent contact FoCuS at in[email protected]. If you would like to contribute to FoCuS, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and/or the School Garden Initiative, please visit the website: www.foothillsustainability.org.