Starting a School Garden

The first year I was teaching, my principal approached me about starting a school garden. I had never gardened in my life. So I recommended a greenhouse project instead. After a series of conversations with business people in the local community, we abandoned the greenhouse project; but one outcome of this failed endeavor was the realization that there was a lot of momentum/interest and subsequently, funding in our local community for green initiatives in schools.

Fast forward to the following Fall; another beginning of a school year when ideas for impacting students are again generated, and another conversation about a greenhouse project. We knew there were funds available for our ideas. Anytime one can find funding for a school project that is non-traditional in its scope and nature, by golly, you have to create a project that will get that money into the school.

I have the spatial awareness of a lamppost. I couldn't build a greenhouse if I had to. As my building administrator became aware of my limitations, we opted for a school garden (digging down is easier than building up). Actually, we started consulting a local non profit about installing a three foot by ten foot raised bed. A month later, we found that our idea had grown quite larger than we had originally intended. A local sustainability farmer at Terrapin Hill Farms turned the ground over for a three quarter acre garden. We had the money necessary to purchase equipment and the seeds of our choosing. So why not go big? Why not do all heirloom and organic?

If you haven't seen or tried a chiogga beet ,you haven't lived. We grew three different kinds of beets, nine different greens from China alone, four different heirloom tomatoes (thirty plants), 6 different types of peppers (thirty plants). The garden was a beast. It was a fancy vegetable factory. So we decided to start a farmer's market booth...rather unsuccessfully I might add. You could not imagine the protectionist policies and red tape of a farmer's market; you just can't.

What do you do with a enough fancy vegetables to feed a small army of grade schoolers? Why you serve it in the cafeteria right? Logic. Common sense you say. Well you would be wrong. The farmer's market red tape is like trying to get a loan. The red tape within the confines of the USDA's cafeteria regulations is like trying to pass a law in France. The bureaucracy is absurd. Ketchup is a verified vegetable. A Brandywine tomato apparently is not. Neither is suiho a viable green. Neither is a Detroit golden beet a salad option. Neither is a Russian banana fingerling potato. Do you know why? Neither do I.

By the time our produce was able to be verified, whatever that means, our produce would have been a compost pile. Thankfully I had connections in the restaurant industry downtown. We sold enough Parisian market radishes to pay for the seeds for the following year. We sold Swiss Chard by the bushel to Jean Farris Winery and Bistro Students harvested everything.

We pulled off the garden. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we made it work.

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