At the 4-H Children’s Teaching Garden, my site visit was with Julia Steed Mawson, 4-H Extension Educator and Garden Coordinator. This permaculture-based garden began in 1998 and moved to the Massabesic Audubon Center in 2006. During the growing season, it hosts 150 inner city and neighborhood kids weekly.
Kids plan, grow and harvest their own yardstick-sized gardens, taking some of the harvest home to their families and donating the rest to the New Hampshire Food Bank. Last year, they donated over 1800 pounds of produce – and this year, Julia states, “Our target is 3,000 pounds.”
The garden is also used to demonstrate to families what they can do in their own backyards. For example, each garden bed is created using sheet mulch (layers of cardboard, newspaper and other materials to kill weeds and prepare the bed for planting) – an effective and easy way to establish a garden bed. Some beds are places for children to carry out mini-research projects, testing out the effects of different mulches, cover crops or composting methods on plant growth and yield – showcasing which techniques may bear the most fruit in others backyards. Also, there is an extensive plan for an edible forest garden that will further introduce youth, elders and their families to the principles of permaculture. “Every garden should be a teaching garden,” Julia shares.
Multiple functions: By considering and valuing all functions of an element, we produce more uses and subsequent yields. Daylilies are used as edging for each garden bed and acts as a teaching tool. The daylilies have large flowers that are easy for children to dissect and explore the different parts of a flower. Reclaimed carpet squares are used as walkways in the gardens, so children are sure where to step. The squares are also used by kids to help them design their garden beds.
To Julia, the Children’s Teaching Garden is more than a place to plant seeds and seedlings – above all, it is a place to plant the seeds of non-violence, entrepreneurship, and healthy living.
Ready to visit? Connect with the 4-H Teaching Garden on Facebook or contact Julia Steed Mawson at 603-660-6373. The garden is cosponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension and the Massabesic Aububon Center.