I’ve cooked with all of the kids in my life. Kitchen time is time to learn about each other, to develop important skills—counting, measuring, patience—and to enjoy a sense of adventure. Curiosity is a strong component of childhood learning, as is pride in work well done. Children will try almost any food that they’ve helped to prepare, even when it includes ingredients with which they are not familiar.
This same principle applies to gardening. Children who help to plant and tend a garden are more likely to eat the produce that comes out of it.
There’s a children’s song by Tom Chapin called The Ultimate Lunchroom. In the lunchroom, the school lunches are nutritious and given to all students for free. The students grow the food themselves in a garden and compost their leftovers to help feed the garden again. The process is so cool that they also do it at home. A dream? Perhaps, but the community garden at Alexander Elementary School is helping to bring that dream a step closer to reality.
The Alexander Community Garden was designed through a process of consultation with the school and the community, and through discussions at Cowichan Green Community events. Once decided upon, the design was given form by volunteers from Cowichan Green Community, Ceres Edible Landscaping, and the Rotary club.
Work began on the garden in March, 2011. It was built on gravel fill so the first step to building the garden was building the soil itself. The gardens were sheet mulched using cardboard, newspaper, compost, and alfalfa and then inoculated with effective microorganisms. This effective permaculture technique yielded the live soil necessary to sustain the herbs, fruit trees and shrubs that were subsequently planted. Rotary club volunteers built some raised vegetable gardens and a pergola, and Warm Land Waterworks directed the installation of an elaborate micro-drip irrigation system.
Right now the Alexander Community Garden doesn’t look like much: It’s a collection of small plants on a plot surrounded by piles of gravel and bark mulch, but gardeners plan for the long haul. The hard work done by volunteers this year has laid the foundation for what will grow in the garden in the years to come. In a few short years, this unprepossessing space will be a little Eden, bearing cherries, apples, gooseberries, loquats, strawberries, blueberries, sunchokes, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, grapes, Saskatoon berries and a wide variety of herbs.
Students will plant annual crops in the raised beds in the community garden, they’ll help to care for the permanent plantings, and—in the process of getting their hands dirty and learning about the cycle of planting, growing, and giving back to the soil—they’ll gain an understanding of and enthusiasm for eating the produce that they grow. That’s the way to build healthy habits. That’s the way to build hope for the future.