Behind the Winchester School, a greenhouse nestles along one of the building’s walls. Inside the structure you’ll find evidence of past gardening projects and the sweet smell of New Hampshire’s summer heat. The vents are open in hopes that plants will soon be growing there. Beside the greenhouse, raised bed gardens are home to a smattering of vegetables and other plants. Grasses and other weeds threaten to take over the space and this competition has only been fostered by plenty of rain and lots of sunshine this summer.
Herein lies one of the challenges to keeping up a school yard garden. Once students and teachers leave for the summer, who will tend to the growing crops? This and other topics will be brought to the table of the Winchester School Garden Committee meetings this fall. Despite meeting some daunting challenges early on in the gardening program, Jane Cardinale and her fellow horticultural comrades have the positive attitudes and determination to help this project blossom.
The garden program at Winchester School sprouted in 2007 from the desire of assistant principal Pam Bigelow and
local community members to foster a greater connection between students and the food they eat. A generous donation from a local couple provided the school with the materials they needed to get started—raised beds, a small greenhouse, seeds, etc. A garden committee, that consists of school administrators, teachers, and community members, was formed to guide all decisions about the school’s new garden space. Classrooms signed up to use the six raised bed spaces and were given free range of what they could create in these spaces.
Up and Running
To further enhance students’ involvement with growing their own food, an afterschool Garden Club was formed and another garden area was constructed. Teachers have attempted to tie the garden into the curriculum they are already teaching. For example, when fourth graders are learning about seeds, they use the garden as their classroom for part of this lesson. Six teachers have also gone beyond the boundaries of the garden to incorporate vermicomposting into their classrooms. All the worms were added to the garden at the end of the school year so to build the soil.
Hurdles to Overcome
One of the largest hurdles that Winchester School is working to overcome is the lack of garden maintenance in the summer months, when school is no longer in session. Another barrier faced is a lack of knowledge or experience with this type of programming among the staff. Last year the greenhouse got so hot that the plants inside were accidentally fried. Those plants that survived the overheating were planted in the ground, only to be eaten by a pesky groundhog soon thereafter. Winchester school teachers have also found it to be a struggle to tie existing curriculum into the garden and greenhouse when time is limited.
Planning for the Future
In the coming years, the Winchester school would like to see their garden program grow in the following ways: improvements made to the gardens, utilize the greenhouse throughout the winter, start a composting program in the cafeteria, and begin garden fundraising. Like many new and existing school programs there is an enormous amount of work yet to do, yet the garden committee is excited to see what positive changes they can make in the years to come. First on the list to do next spring is to install a fence around the garden to protect the plants from the groundhog. Another new addition to Winchester School in the spring is an intern from Antioch New England. The graduate student’s time will be spent working with students and teachers, teaching lessons related to the garden and greenhouse to better integrate these resources into the school curriculum.
Advice for Other Schools/Projects
Jane Cardinale has only a few words of advice for other schools who are looking to start a similar school garden program: Focus on crops that produce in the fall and spring.