At SFC, we have the privilege of seeing school gardens flourish over many seasons. We want to share the story of Graham Elementary’s vibrant and active garden to applaud their success and inspire others. The garden started in early 2012 when several teachers and the principal came together with a shared desire to build a garden that would benefit the students. Through a former Sprouting Healthy Kids project in partnership with Marathon Kids, SFC supported the school by helping to build the garden team through community organizing efforts. With the support of the principal, teachers, families, staff, students, community volunteers from the Austin Chinese Church next door and elsewhere, the school built four 3x12 ft. raised beds and mulched the pathways.
School Garden Spotlight: Graham Elementary
Bianca Bidiuc Peterson, Grow Local Program Manager
The garden enrolled in our Spread the Harvest project to receive free seeds, plants, and compost, and garden team members attended our School Garden Leadership Trainings. The garden team ultimately created an afterschool garden club that flourished for three years, with approximately eighty 4th and 5th-graders participating. In the fall of 2015, a teacher organized a workday to plant 25 shade, fruit, and pecan trees donated by the Austin Community Tree Program all over campus to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect. Ten of those trees help shade the garden and attract birds. Other teachers also wrote grants and received different types of support from SFC, Whole Kids Foundation, Native Plant Society of Texas, and the Graham PTA.
Today there are twelve beds, three compost piles, a butterfly garden with a puddle, wildflowers, fruit and nut trees, outdoor tables, a bird bath, and a bird feeder. The garden provides endless opportunities for discovery and activity, such as finding frogs, lizards, worms and releasing ladybugs and butterflies. Students have toured the garden on Career Day to learn about herbs, composting, and seeds. Several kindergarten classes have grown larvae into butterflies as a class project. The librarian has added more books on gardening and bugs in the school library.
One garden team member, Margaret Earnest, was invited to serve as the guest speaker at SFC’s School Garden Leadership Training to share lessons learned. Margaret offers this advice; “Grow slowly. Grow your team. Always be on the lookout for new volunteers, free trainings from SFC, new leaders, and burnout. Every year is different due to weather, supplies, kids, and volunteers. The web has plenty of kid's gardening ideas so no need to recreate the wheel. Your local extension office, environmental offices, SFC, Whole Kids, and others have plenty of materials, many that are free or inexpensive. Get on a kid’s gardening newsletter and share with teachers.”
Crystal Galván Doucette, Kindergarten Bilingual Teacher at Graham Elementary, says: “In kindergarten, a big science unit is the study of the Life Cycle of Plants. In the classroom, we have been reading non-fiction and fiction books all about seeds and plants. My students have enjoyed not only learning about plants in literature, but also seeing first hand our seeds grow into seedlings. My students have been able to take ownership of our garden bed by having mini garden work days during our science block. They have been watering, weeding, and visiting our little seedlings regularly. We can't wait to see our vegetables grow and share them with our families.”