SAIIER 2016:Udavi School vegetable garden project

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Udavi School vegetable garden project


Introduction

This activity, which started in July 2015, was a collaboration between Udavi School and Foodlink/Farm Group. It was a pilot project for schools under SAIIER as the Teachers’ Center of SAIIER is interested in promoting such educational activities for their relevance to local issues and to a basic necessity, food.

Objectives

The overall aim of the project was to educate young children in organic agriculture issues by:

  • Ensuring food security by providing children with knowledge and skills to grow food
  • Ensuring that education pertains to local issues
  • Making vegetable gardens at a school to inspire others to do the same
  • Making links between farmers and consumers

Description of project

It was agreed that 20 children from Grade 6 of Udavi School, which has Sudhir as the class teacher, and 20 children of Grade 9 with Dominique as their teacher, would participate. Sudhir agreed to take responsibility for the project in Udavi School. The children would first come to Buddha Garden to see how food was grown there. On the basis of that knowledge they would then set up two vegetable beds in the school. They would carry out all the work necessary to grow the food both in the summer rains and the cool period. This practical work would be supported by work in the classroom integrated into to their existing time-tabled subjects.

The steps were:

  1. First the students came to Buddha Garden to look around the farm and find out how we grow food there.
  2. We agreed that every Monday afternoon from 3:15 to 3:45pm we would work in the Udavi School garden. Priya went on most Mondays, sometimes with Rajan (who works in Buddha Garden) and Spiros (a long term volunteer). The children came for a short time on other days to carry out regular maintenance work such as watering and weeding.
  3. With great energy the students built the first raised bed using granite pillars that were lying around in the school.
  4. They then prepared the soil, put compost on the bed and covered it with a mulch of leaves. For this first bed we used compost from Buddha Garden. #They planted the beds using seedlings from the nursery in Buddha Garden.
  5. Students put sticks up for the beans. They watered and weeded regularly and hey presto eventually there was a harvest of a few vegetables. Since this was the first harvest these were few in number, but all the students were very proud of them.
  6. While the plants were growing everyone helped with making a compost heap using leaves from the school, weeds from the bed, Gliricidia (a nitrogen-fixing plant) and EM (Effective Micro-organisms) from Buddha Garden. Unfortunately the heap got more or less washed away in the very heavy monsoon.
  7. A new bed was started in January of 2016 and a range of cool-weather vegetables planted. This second harvest of beans got badly attacked by aphids to the extent that the majority of the plants died. The students felt very disappointed about this but it was explained that this often happens when you first make a vegetable bed and in doing so disturb the existing balance of insects in the area. Such a disturbance often provides a window for pests to proliferate and this continues until a new balance is established. The beds were prepared once again as before, and planted with different cool-weather plants which provided another small harvest.
  8. Just before the school’s Open Day, Priya gave a talk about what had been completed in the project. Two posters were produced to show what had been learnt.

Reflections

  • Generally the students were very enthusiastic and enjoyed this way of learning. They participated in all the work and we tried not to have a demarcation between boys’ and girls’ activities. Generally they worked well together, due in no small measure to Sudhir’s influence.
  • There wasn’t enough food produced for students to explore how it could be used. It would be really good to have a larger area for food growing so that the students can then cook what is grown. This would, however, require that more time is available for students to do the work. As they have an already very crowded schedule this might be difficult to achieve. Even for this small project there were times, such as when students had to practice for a theatre performance or a sports day, when it was impossible for them to come to the garden.
  • There was a disconnection between the practical and theoretical work. This was particularly acute when we had the pest problem with the beans. Although we talked about what could and should have been done, the opportunity was lost to learn about pest control in general and to address their feelings of disappointment about what had happened.

The future

Buddha Garden intends to expand this project in the future. The Udavi students are keen to continue and it will be good if we can have them back next year with a new group of novice food growers. If this is done then the area under cultivation will need to be expanded which would be very difficult in the present location. Discussions are ongoing with two other schools which are interested in having a vegetable garden. A challenge is finding someone in each school willing to take responsibility for the project. It is not possible for Priya to do this unless she gives up farming and becomes some kind of roving gardener.

For the future, Buddha Garden would like to integrate the practical and theoretical aspects of food growing more closely. The team is looking at the possibility of creating a workbook for students, a flip chart that can be used for teaching purposes in the vegetable garden, and a teachers’ manual. The idea is to create something that can then be offered, maybe as a download, to other schools that would like to try something similar and do some of their own food growing.