The garden is a good place to observe, learn and experiment. It’s also a great space for inspiring creativity in people of all ages, though particularly for children and youth.
In the Fall of 2013, I facilitated my first composting workshop with my wonderful friend, Christina, who was teaching grade 4/5 students at Ben Calf Robe in Edmonton, AB. She warned me that her students were “high energy” so I planned to make the workshop as interactive as possible. Less talk, more action! We played a game of hot potato and tomato, watched a catchy clip of foods rapidly decomposing and had a ‘True or False’ game show about what materials we could and couldn’t compost.
I also brought in a small bucket filled with red wiggler worms from my indoor compost at home and explained the importance of worms (and other critters) in breaking down organic waste and converting it into soil. I’ll never forget how one of the most energetic students totally transformed when he picked up one of the worms and studied it in his cupped palm. He became completely transfixed on the worm – and relaxed!
I loved the combination of kids + gardening and began drafting out, on paper, a series of different hands-on workshops that was geared for kids.
Then I up and moved to Uganda where the majority of kids are born in gardens and raised in gardens.
I did more learning about agriculture in Uganda last year than I did teaching, which was important for so many reasons. With 85% of the population involved in growing food – of some kind, on different scales – people here have a lot of localized knowledge on traditional, organic and sustainable agriculture. What’s become difficult; however, is maintaining those traditional practices on a shrinking land-base and growing enough food to satisfy the family and earn enough to cover cash expenses, like school fees, household goods and healthcare.
The question that many Ugandans (and the world over for that matter) are facing is: how do we grow more food in smaller spaces?
Recently, via my work with the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation and through a unique partnership with Child Family Health International, I’ve been able to get back to two passions of mine: kids and gardening!
Just this morning, in fact, a few of my favourite farmers and I visited a primary school in Rubira, a small village located only 15 minutes away from Kabale, to facilitate our first school garden workshop with their Agriculture Club.
The day before, the kids had constructed a ‘living fence’ for the garden, located between the school and school’s kitchen, by planting cuttings of a local shrub around the edges.
Our first workshop together was to build a kitchen garden – a clever, low-resource technology introduced by my friend, Alphonse, that he picked up in Kenya while studying sustainable agriculture – and several raised beds for planting vegetables.
The kitchen garden is an excellent example of how to grow more food in less space, using nontraditional technologies. It only requires six large wooden stakes, two potato sacks, a pile of rocks, a large needle, twine and a bucket with hole in the bottom. Most of these materials are low-cost, or already available in rural areas. One of the boys noted that you could make your own needle using an old spoke from a bicycle. Brilliant!
The question, as we built the kitchen garden together, that we asked the kids was: how many cabbages can you plant on the sack?
“Ten, fifteen,” they answered, motioning around the horizontal top of the garden.
“What if we told you that you could actually plant forty on one sack?”
“Impossible!” they laughed.
The great thing about using a permeable sack is that you can take advantage of vertical space and plant on the sides. After all, a plant doesn’t have any preference for flat ground – it’s sunlight they’re after! All the students planted a seedling onto the kitchen garden, bringing our total to around thirty cabbages on one sack. Yes, we made the impossible “possible” this morning! The kids seemed impressed with the idea. When we asked who would try and make the garden at their own home, there were many hands in the air!
Our second task was to build three raised beds for planting carrots and beets – two vegetables that are enjoyed by most Ugandans, and nutritious at that.
The kids (and facilitators, for that matter) were all smiles at the end of the workshop. It was a fun morning digging and building and planting together, and it left me feeling inspired to move forward working with their club.
We’re looking forward to doing a hot composting workshop in a couple of weeks, along with starting a fruit tree nursery by planting seeds from tree tomato, passion fruit, guava and gooseberry. Agroforestry, of course, is an excellent way to maximize space and production!
I think there’s a lot of good that comes when you use the garden as a classroom for kids – from any culture – though, of course, it’s particularly important for places where food insecurity and rates of child malnutrition are pressing issues.
You can’t only measure ‘how many cabbages you planted’ as an end result because there’s too many other (more fundamentally important) transformations taking place. Teaching a child how to use his/her resources in creative ways is one of the most important things we, as adults and educators, can do.
No doubt that children will be the ones adapting and innovating to today’s social and environmental realities, and helping us to develop many solutions for growing food in smaller spaces.
If you have any ideas, or resources for school garden projects that would be easily adapted/transferrable to low-resource settings, I would be happy to hear from you!