Antioch University: Building a Garden Community

Students plant peppers, tomatoes and basil.

Case Study 10

Enjoyable green spaces.  This is a topic on the forefront of many minds these days where school gardens are becoming a norm and the concept of edible landscapes is blooming.  At Antioch’s campus in Keene, NH, the lawn is now growing food for the on-site café  and is one of the most popular outdoor classroom spaces.

Four garden boxes, each two feet high and six feet long, create corners for an open space where people can sit and socialize, classes can meet, musicians can play, and inspiration can be derived.  In its first summer a variety of vegetables and herbs filled each bed, including peppers, tomatoes, basil, Swiss chard, pole beans, sweet peas, carrots, and much more!  This fall as leaves started to drop, produce was harvested, garlic was planted, and plans for winterization began materializing.  Throughout its first season students across departments combined efforts to create educational and funding sources, and the Antioch community as a whole is a buzz with excitement about the possibilities.

Project Beginnings

Antioch University New England is a unique location for a school garden.  It is a graduate school that caters to a wide range of disciplines including clinical psychology, integrated learning, environmental studies and more.  ANE values ecological stewardship and place-based learning experiences, and the creation of an on-site vegetable garden is an example of these values.

In March of 2009, a number of Antioch students, faculty and staff attended the workshop “Grow Food Everywhere” hosted by Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity.  Discussions following this workshop revolved around the desire to have a working, edible  landscape on Antioch’s campus.  A  few months later, the Antioch Garden Committee formed, a garden proposal was submitted to the campus president, and plans for construction were approved.

Work Study Students Sam and Jess get ready for a work party.

An Antioch student took the project on for her summer practicum and with loads of support hit the ground running.  By July 2009, four garden boxes were built and a variety of vegetables planted.  In the words of one volunteer, “Something beautiful has begun.”

Supplies for building the boxes were made available by local farms, students, faculty, staff and alumni.  Over $500 was collected through in-kind donations and a gift from the graduating class of the Environmental Studies department.  This provided the capital needed to buy the lumber and a few maintenance supplies.

Over 155 volunteer hours were committed to making this project a reality.  Currently there are two paid work study positions that coordinate the garden efforts and are supervised by a faculty member.  The garden is now able to use compost that is produced on-site from collected food waste and a center garden bed was created, which will host a garden of medicinal plants starting in the spring of 2010.

Up and Running

The theme of Antioch’s garden is truly “many hands make light work.”  Two garden coordinators host ‘work parties’ where everyone is welcome to come and participate in garden related events such as: planting garlic, harvesting produce, turning the compost pile, putting the beds to sleep for the winter, or participating in fundraising events.  The work parties have been an opportunity for new folks to meet each other, a great time to socialize after a day of classes, and an opportunity to take part in producing the food that is eaten on campus.

The first garden fund raiser, a sustainability themed book fair,  to raise funds for the purchase of materials for spring planting and project expansion was a campus-wide success.

Two different cold frames were built and more greens have been planted to extend the growing season and  provide an educational experience for overwintering with small, box gardens.  Students collaborate with the facilities staff as well as the landscaping crew to enhance the communication between different parties dedicated to preserving and maintaining the beauty and integrity of Antioch’s campus. The gardens are five months old now, and already students are incorporating the gardens into class curriculum and master’s projects – the medicinal garden being the first master’s project.

Hurdles to Overcome

There is concern that there may be gaps in leadership for the maintenance of the gardens from season to season or year to year because this is a student led initiative aligned with the school calendar and not the growing season.  Staffing the work study positions throughout the summer, the attraction of animals or rodents and the loss of open, green space have also elicited some concern from the Antioch community.  There is also a lack of continuous funding for project expansion.

Evaluation tools are being developed to help track this information. Small grants have been considered and more research is being done as to what is available, but there are few grants that cater to smaller scale, vegetable gardens at higher level institutions.  The location of the campus has also raised concerns about the soil quality for the gardens.  Soil tests were sent to UNH prior to planting, and the results did not indicate any threats to the health of the soil.  If the program hopes to expand to other areas of the campus, soil quality will need to be considered in those locations.

Planning for the Future

Students continue to express interest in using the gardens or garden space for class projects, faculty are considering how the gardens can be used as an experiential learning tool, and the committee hopes to expand the growth of food both for the purposes of the on-site café, as well as the local community kitchen.   Plans are being made to utilize the garden for classes such as Soil Ecology and Place-based Learning.  Entomology, a class held in the summer that studies

A garden inhabitant joining in on the building of the boxes.

the eight major orders of insects, could utilize the garden for observations.  Two students are currently planning a “Quest” that would have students finding items or investigating aspects of the garden and compost piles.

There are other students researching ideas for how new classes could be offered at Antioch including Eco-Therapy  and Sustainable Agriculture.  These visions for the future of the garden space are just at the tip of the iceberg. Student groups are beginning to brainstorm ideas for continuing to make our campus a “green” working landscape—and the expansion of the garden space on campus is a top priority.  Beautiful things truly are happening on ANE’s campus.

Advice for Other Schools/Projects

  • Allow for student-led initiatives to grow and find ways to help mobilize their efforts
  • Use human resources including friends, family, students, parents, local experts and community members
  • Stir up excitement for your project through brainstorming sessions and community forums
The Garden Committee and friends celebrating the completion of the box building.

Winchester School: Greenhouse, Garden, and Groundhog

Case Study 9

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.

Project Beginnings

The garden program at Winchester School sprouted in 2007 from the desire of assistant principal Pam Bigelow and

Classroom garden plots at Winchester School.

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.

Symonds School: Transforming Green Space into Diverse Habitats

Artist in residence worked with students to create this garden art.

Case Study 8

The Symonds School, located just off of Park Avenue in Keene, NH, exemplifies the culmination of dedicated parents, faculty, staff, and students working to beautify the landscape and provide hands-on educational opportunities for all.  A variety of garden beds surround the school grounds, located near entrances, fence lines and within the playground space.  Among these garden plots, diverse annuals and perennials, large sections of sunflowers, and vegetables are scattered throughout.

In addition to the plants growing in these gardens, there is beautiful artwork that creates a sense of belonging, both to the community members that invest time in maintaining the gardens, and to the folks that simply enjoy the area.  There are small huts built out of sticks with plants growing all around them where children play during recess, beautifully painted poles with wish flags flying in the wind, a hand-built patio, and shrubs with various bird species fluttering in and out of the branches.

These garden spaces not only provide great aesthetics to the school grounds; the benefits of this program unfurl for each student, every classroom, and then continue to extend to families, businesses and organizations throughout Cheshire County.

Project Beginnings

Four years ago, the playground area at Symonds Elementary consisted of dust, sand, and pavement.  Parents, faculty, and staff came together and decided that this area needed to be more useful, more  biologically diverse, and more conducive to learning.

Goals were established, grants were written, and the program began to take shape.  A garden committee was formed and art was integrated into the program. Year after year, more and more garden plots sprouted around the school building.

Up and Running

Individuals, families, or classes can ‘adopt’ a portion of the garden and do whatever they would like with it, while following organic growing principles and using native species whenever possible. Two master gardeners that work at Symonds help with some of the planting, advising, and maintenance of the garden beds.  An inspiring aspect of this program is that people not only maintain their garden spaces but purchase new items and really work to make these gardens dynamic.  The program has been funded by a Fish and Game grant, along with donations and fundraisers. The PTA played a crucial role in helping get this program off the ground.

Along with the donation of funds, local businesses have contributed materials such as hoses, tools and compost.  This program is zero cost to the district, which allows for a bit more flexibility.

“Our program is unique in that it is very community oriented and it feels like common space for people versus owned and regulated. There have not been issues with vandalism and it is not just science based,” said Susan Meehan, teacher at Symonds School.

Planning for the Future

The Garden Committee has combined with the Playground Committee to revise and develop goals including:

Artist designed structures that act as beautiful places to play at recess. They are a big hit!
  • grow more food in conjunction with the seasons
  • develop a summer program that can help maintain the gardens
  • coordinate with wellness education
  • create more spaces for children and animals throughout the playground

Advice for Other Schools/Projects

Folks involved with the Symonds school gardens advise other start-up groups to:

  • Look into garden clubs for plant donations and seek advice from master gardeners or your local extension service
  • Involve your PTA!
  • Community awareness about available garden space will help with maintenance and making the space available to more people.
  • Have a clean up and planting day to get people engaged and excited about your project.
  • The Fish and Game grant was a big help to the Symonds School, and having a focus other than just growing food has provided a lot of opportunities for classes, students, and families.

Stonewall Farm: Building Bridges

Case Study 7

Using bee puppets, children pretend to pollinate squash flowers in the garden.

Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH, is a nonprofit working farm and education center dedicated to connecting people to the land and to the role of local agriculture in their lives. Set in a scenic valley, Stonewall Farm consists of pastures, fields and woodlands.  As you walk around the farm, a geodesic dome greenhouse and two acres of gardens pop out of the landscape and invite you to take a closer look.

Amanda Hopkins serves as the garden manager  at Stonewall Farm, and acts as a bridge between the gardens and the Farm’s education programs.  Every year, Amanda works with Keene High School students, community volunteers, and children who come to the farm for summer camp and school programming. She dreams of working with more local schools starting in the spring of 2010.  This winter, she is working to create curriculum to bring the garden deeper into their educational programming and to nearby schools.  Amanda is “inspired by the garden and the proximity to Keene area schools who can use us as a resource…for all the schools who don’t have the opportunity to have a school garden and for those that do.”

Project Beginnings

Amanda started working at Stonewall Farm two years ago with the goal of expanding the existing Farm to Table program that already draws many school groups to Stonewall Farm.  Amanda’s goal is to create outreach partnerships to help schools with curriculum and linking farm and garden activities to state and district standards.  Part of this work involves meeting with teachers to identify their needs, gauging the age and ability of the students involved, figuring out their classroom and school grounds resources, and then determining how to incorporate the teachers’ interests, skills, and energy.

As more and more teachers and districts embrace place- and agricultural-based curriculums, it’s critical that there be resources available to help add fuel to their fire.  Amanda notes: “their days are already packed as it is, and I want to help.”

Up and Running

The knowledge and skills that will help to turn Amanda’s vision into reality came from myriad life experiences: a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education from Antioch University New England, an internship with Tracie Smith of Tracie’s Community Farm, working at the Youth Horticulture Project of Brattleboro, being a NOFA member and attending conferences, going to Small and Beginning Farms workshops, involvement with the Keene Farmers’ Market, and visiting a variety of farms and farmers.

To start up the garden program, funds will come from the garden’s produce sales at the on-site farmstand, Keene Farmers’ Market, and her new year-round CSA.  Once running, the garden programs will generate its own revenue.

A great support network at Stonewall Farm also makes the garden program possible, including Amanda’s new production and floral coordinator, Sarah Barkhouse.  Sarah will relieve Amanda from the coordination and oversight of daily garden tasks and allow her to focus on the development and execution of educational programming.  A pilot program with a second grade class in Marlborough this spring (2010) will provide the foundation from which the program can grow.

Another great opportunity for curriculum development has been the evolution of the C3, Cultivating Community Connections, Partnership with Keene High School’s (KHS) Career Center.  The original C3 program, funded by a SARE grant two seasons ago, was a partnership with the Horticulture, Culinary and Marketing departments at KHS. The program has since reduced its scope to working mostly with the Horticulture classes in planting and harvesting field crops, and less with the Culinary students’ on-site café.

Hurdles to Overcome

While the garden outreach program has great support from the staff at Stonewall Farm, there are still hurdles to overcome.  Dealing with the challenges of managing limited time, working under the constraints of the school day schedule, tight school budgets, and school transportation for groups are all issues to address.  Another barrier is the lack of access to information needed to move forward with some of the school programs.  Though Amanda is bridging the garden and education programs, she sees the need to strengthen this connection in the future.

“I would like students to understand that gardens produce food. Real, tangible, edible food and that you need to work hard in order to harvest the benefits from that garden, and when you do, not only is there a lot to learn from but, boy does it taste good too!”

Planning for the Future

The future has much in store for Amanda and her visions.  This winter, curriculum development and gaining teacher support are the first steps.  Along the way,  Amanda also recognizes the need to identify existing garden-based curricula and figure out how they match local curriculum in schools in order to fill gaps and eliminate repetition of resources.

Advice for Other Schools/Projects

For others who are interested in starting similar food and agriculture programming, Amanda Hopkins advises working on a farm or in a garden to gain experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.  Perhaps you will experience some failures, but you will also learn to problem solve in the process.

Amanda also urges tapping into the resources right at your fingertips:

  • Go to the Keene Farmers’ Market and meet your local farmers and producers.
  • Stonewall Farm offers many education programs, farm tours, and workshops.
  • Many seed companies will donate seeds and catalogs.  Some examples of seed companies to contact are: Fedco, Johnny’s, Seeds of Change, and Seed Savers.
  • Cooperative Extension and 4-H offer lots of support.
  • Experienced farmers in the area can be great resources (as long as you approach them in the winter.)
Summer camp celebrates a good morning of weeding.