DC Urban Gardeners Teaching Teachers to Garden

jhhhhBringing gardens into schools has become the wave. Think Alice Waters, famed chef and proponent of eating fresh local foods, and the Edible Schoolyards program she started out of Berkley, CA.

Gardens open whole new vistas for school children. They can learn about biology through seeds and the way seeds turn into plants. They can learn about science through photosynthesis and the way the sun changes its position in the sky according to the seasons. Children can learn about nutrition by growing vegetables and learning how to prepare them in the kitchen.

And in an urban environment such as the District of Columbia, where many children may not have access to a garden or even a yard, these can be valuable, even life-altering lessons.

Horticulture can easily be woven into the school curriculum, especially if the school starts its own garden. But who teaches the teachers how to garden?

That would fall to a group called the D.C. Schoolyard Greening, a program of the D.C. Environmental Education Consortium.

I first heard about Schoolyard Greening last year when I was building a large container garden at my daughter’s school, the Children’s Studio School at 1301 V St. NW. We had received a $900 grant from Garden Resources of Washington. Pretty soon I was being invited to a fascinating clinic at a local elementary school.

I, the parent volunteer in the group, along with a room full of teachers from schools all over the city, learned about grant opportunities for starting gardens, about composting, about growing and using herbs.jkjgjg

It wasn’t long after that I learned that our Studio School garden had been selected as one of five stops on the annual Schoolyard Greening garden tour. A whole bus load of teachers arrived with cameras and tons of questions.

Pretty soon I was showing up at Schoolyard Greening’s planning meetings and then was asked to lead one of this years workshops. My assignment: weeding and garden maintenance.

Much of the planning and administrative work for Schoolyard Greening is done by Grace Manubay of Casey Trees, the non-profit group dedicated to planting and nurturing trees in the District. Grace also has been instrumental in identifying science standards that can be taught outdoors in D.C. school gardens.

On the government side of the consortium is Gilda Allen at the D.C. Department of the Environment, Watershed Protection Division. Gilda is a irrepressible gardener and organizer who also presides over a considerable grant program for school gardens called Greener Schools, Cleaner Water.

The program is aimed at school conservation sites and gardens with an emphasis on creating teaching areas that also help reduce storm water runoff. This year Gilda’s program awarded several $3,500 grants to D.C. schools to help start garden projects. Gilda wears yet another hat at Schoolyard Greening clinics: master composter.

Meanwhile, another prominent member of the group, Marti Goldstone, is a science teacher at Horace-Mann Elementary School in Northwest D.C. Marti and her teaching partner Louise Hill were instrumental in turning asphalt into a garden at Horace-Mann, and they teach a dynamite tag-team course on growing and using herbs.

Also directly involved is the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum. Jenny Guillaume, the garden coordinator at the Youth Garden, now sadly departed for another job in Brooklyn, NY, was an active leader in Schoolyard Greening and is shown in the picture above teaching teachers how to plant celery.

Courtney Rose, educational coordinator at the Youth Garden, loves to teach about composting with worms.

The teacher clinic is a two-day affair. This year we kicked it off with a Powerpoint show and tour at the U.S. Botanical Gardens. There was also a bit of a brain tease for the 20-plus teachers who attended. We divided into groups and were handed a diagram and 40 minutes to solve a complex of landscaping design issues for an imaginary school.

Now that will get your mind focused.

For the second leg of our clinic we moved outdoors to the Washington Youth Garden, a perfect setting and on a perfect day for gardening. There were lessons in seed starting, growing and using herbs, composting and of course my spiel on organic maintenance using fun tools such as a stirrup hoe and a Japanese weeder that looks like a chef’s knife on a stick.


In between, we served a pretty scrumptious lunch, including a pasta with pesto made out of chickweed (that would have been the chickweed out of my own garden.)

Now Schoolyard Greening is on to other projects, such as taking an inventory of school gardens in the city and creating master lists with contact information so people can more easily learn about their local school gardens and lend support.

Do watch for more news about Schoolyard Greening. This is an organization worthy of your support. And you can learn more about it by visiting the website here.

You can check out the D.C. Environmental Education Consortium here.

By Ed Bruske

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