Garden to Table

This blog was written by Mrs. Katy Cachiotis, a 6th and 7th grade math and science teacher at El Dorado Middle School. To read more of her blog, visit cachiotis.weebly.com.

Recently, I was asked how I started a garden project at my school. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about my garden, but it got me thinking about the logistics of this endeavor. I have always loved gardening and remember eating fruits and vegetables right off of the plants and trees in my grandmother’s garden. I wanted to give that experience to my students. I have worked at a few different schools, both elementary and middle, and have both joined in and started garden projects. At one elementary school I worked at, we had a CA state program called Project EAT that pushed into all grade levels over two days a week. This program provides a teacher who maintains the garden on the premises and brings samples and teaches lessons on gardening and food preparation. I found that I really enjoyed going out to the garden with my students and wanted to continue it at the next school I went to. At two of the middle schools I’ve worked at, I have taught an enhancement period and have called it Garden To Table. I purposely designed this course to provide access to gardening to students with little to no yard. All of the fruits and vegetables we grow can be grown in a container on a balcony.
There are many things to take into consideration before planting a garden at a school. I consider the following to be the most important:

  1. The space I have: Whether a single container garden or a multi-leveled raised bed, you can adapt your plant choices to be grown in a variety of places. There are plenty of choices on the market, including single beds on wheels that could be kept in the classroom and wheeled out daily.
  2. Weather: You will also have to give thought to the weather and to plan based on annual sunshine patterns. I have observed the different seasons and what areas of my school get the most direct sunlight. Different plants have different requirements, so read their tags carefully to give them the appropriate amount of sunlight.
  3. Water: the water sources I will use are very important. Having to use manual sources of water will require daily maintenance and require weekend, break and summer watering visits. Rain barrels can be used for water collection, but an automatic sprinkler and drip system is ideal.
  4. Funding: Though I have used my room funds for this class, mostly I have provided the funding myself. However, there are multiple ways to get and/or raise the funding needed to start and maintain the garden. I have written and received grants, gotten parent volunteers and funding to get tools and clean-up days, and worked closely with my afterschool program to fund this site through their resources. I have a lot of parents who have landscaping businesses and have donated time and equipments. Local businesses can use any donations as a write-off and have packages prepared for those who take the initiative.
  5. Summer Care: Many of the plants we love to eat ripen in mid or late summer or autumn. I have a sprinkler system set up, but I will still need to check it at least once a week to make sure. Year-round gardens are not impossible, but they are time consuming. You can plant fruit trees or bushes that will need little maintenance or plant in containers and take them home for the holidays.
  6. Permission: I have had a number of our projects be scrutinized by the district, so I make sure any plans are approved by my principal before I break ground. Once you have found the space and a water source…have fun!

During the months that we cannot be outside, I give them lessons on different produce products including citrus and herbs, focusing on organic vs. home grown. Let them taste and smell the difference for themselves. Introduce them to hydroponics and indoor growing techniques (for space travel) and have them plan a greenhouse.  I also teach them about building materials and how to plan a garden. Really, I am just taking 20 years of gardening experience and 20 years of gardening with my mom and grandmothers and sharing it piece by piece with my students. Whatever gets you excited is what they will be excited to learn from you. Have fun outside getting dirty!

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