Sunday, June 24, 2012

Super Stoddart Kids Gardening Club

This year, we are trying to have a more organized youth gardening program at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. In the past, we have simply assigned a plot to interested youth gardeners and then provided one-on-one tutoring. However, with few exceptions, most kids did not stick with it once the weather got hot. Last year, none of them did (and then I had the glamorous job of hoeing the plots back into submission, replanting them, weeding and watering them, and then harvesting the produce all by myself for food pantries (when, magically, the kids showed back up wanting some)). I had planned to simply have all of them share one plot this year in order to minimize the inconvenience. However, then we were blessed to have so much in the way of donations and had assigned all of the plots by mid-April. So, then I tried to start a 4-H club (which would hopefully focus on gardening). Unfortunately, not enough parents would agree to sign the mandatory forms. So, we’re doing something a little less formal instead.

On most Monday evenings, a group of about 15 kids meet in the new annex, where we have built four raised beds for the kids. We also have a larger plot in the center of the Garden that is shared by a few children (most of whom are in the same family). Surprisingly, four boys have agreed to share one raised bed, where we are experimenting with square foot gardening. One of our original youth gardeners (from 2009 and 2010) had moved away, but is visiting the neighborhood this summer for the purpose of raising vegetables. Cathy’s daughter, Hope, has one bed and two new girls share another bed.

Hope and the boys have been among our most motivated gardeners this year.  Hope is experimenting with exotic artichokes.  The boys showed up before the beds were even built asking which one would be theirs.  They even helped me unload top soil for a while (until the sandbox (below) became too much of a temptation). 

At our first meeting, Barb read the younger kids a fairy story as they sat around our fairy garden. Then, we had those kids write a story about fairies. The older kids planted seedlings and seeds in their beds and made charts of what they had planted. Both of these activities involved learning to spell the vegetables and flowers. We ended by having the kids give oral reports about what they had learned that night and then having refreshments (of fresh fruit) and berry picking along the fence.

We were going to build a scarecrow for our second meeting, but it was too wet (having just finished raining about ten minutes before our starting time). Instead, I had them all draw pictures of a potential scarecrow face and then vote on the favorite picture to become the face of our new scarecrow.

Last week, we planted water bottles (which Cathy brought) next to their thirsty plants and discussed water conservation and how to water plants during a drought. We also started some pole beans around a bamboo teepee. Then, we built a scarecrow (which, in my humble opinion, could use a hat). Again, we had them write a story about what the scarecrow’s life would be like in the Garden and then give oral reports at the end about what, if anything, they had learned. I treated them with bananas at the end.

This week, we will be doing some more planting, discussing fertilizer and the science behind seeds and then maybe building a compost bin.  We also need to vote on a name for the scarecrow.

Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Just before our kick-off meeting, someone came in and completely destroyed the Fairy Garden. It was reported to be a neighborhood boy who threw all of the items out of the Garden (including into the alley), messed up the sandbox and pulled plants out of the beds of some of the SACG gardeners. We had to put the locks back on the gates to make clear that the kids should not be in the Garden without an adult present. Nonetheless, less than two hours later, three boys had jumped the fence or gates and were back in the garden examining the Fairy Garden (which had been reconstituted as best they could by some very young neighborhood girls). I explained to the boys that they could not be there without an adult and if it happened again, I’d prosecute them for trespassing. The other kids formed a “secret” Garden Watch society to keep eyes on the Garden and report any mischief. Barb came back and replaced some of the destroyed items (like the cute fairy house) with a birdhouse.

Girls welcoming our new lawnmower donated by Mike Watkins

Last week, someone took a few of the bean poles and then two more poles disappeared Saturday afternoon (leaving nothing for the beans to grow up). Apparently, the boys believed that the poles would make good rapiers for sword fighting and left the beans to fend for themselves. Sadly, the poles did not survive their pretend battles and shattered pretty quickly.

Also, Ms. Anthony complained about finding youngsters on her property during restricted hours playing in the rain barrels (thus, wasting precious water during this dreadful drought). She chased them away and spoke with their supervising adult.

Then, Barb generously donated a sandbox for the toddlers of adult gardeners to play while their parents gardened. However, it had become the neighborhood gathering place for all of the kids whenever the gates are open. They do not come to garden or to learn, but to play in the sand box. (There is no playground in the area). It’s hard to get them to focus on anything else sometimes, so we have to close the box during youth meetings. It’s also been an effort to get them to clean up after themselves after they’ve played. However, we are making progress.

The kids still come by on non-meeting days to pick berries and ask what we are doing. Cathy is almost always present during the Monday meetings as the voice of sanity to keep me from hurting anyone. (Patience is obviously not one of my virtues). I always keep a super-soaker handy (fully loaded with water, of course) to defend myself when the kids get out of hand:-) This has had the effect of encouraging mischievous behavior and trolling in the trunk of my car to find my weapon of wet destruction. What’s a girl to do?

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