Sunday, June 26, 2016

Building rasied beds... and confidence

"I've never been proud of anything I did in school before."

That's what one of our students said after he finished building and planting his raised bed full of herbs. It was part of new program we hope will help students learn self-confidence and science while earning credits so they can graduate on time. We call it the Depot Garden Project, and it is being funded in part by a grant from the E. O. Smith Foundation.

It started Wednesday at 9:00 am. I'd enrolled 9 students in the program, but I knew two were out of state, and I expected some no-shows. In fact, I would have considered it a success if only 3 had come the first day, so I was excited when 5 students showed up. They weren't quite sure about this whole learning-over-the-summer thing, and at least one student was just a little bit grumpy, but it's amazing what a little productive work can do!

We had to build the beds out of 2x12s, and that turned out to be tougher than expected. The decking screws went in hard, and the nails were not much easier, but students did most of the work. Amber and Kim worked together and built their own 4x8 foot box all by themselves, and Gabe built his own as well.

Meanwhile, the others had to move a few of the old beds, and I showed them how to dig them a bit below grade with an edging spade.

So far so good, but the real labor-intensive part was still ahead. Rick, the owner of Milrick Lawn Service and Garden Center and mentor to two of our students this year, had dropped off a big pile of beautiful, dark topsoil on Tuesday. All 3.5 yards were sitting there waiting to get moved into the beds, and it looked like our labor was about to get much more laborious. When we pulled out our wheelbarrows, they both had flat tires. I wasn't looking forward to moving all of the soil by the shovel-full, so while Ellen and I wrapped up the installations, Shannon took the students out to buy their plants... and a tire pump.

They returned, excited to get started planting their herbs, vegetables, and flowers, and hungry for lunch. There would be burgers and hot dogs on the grill, but not, we told them, until the boxes were all filled with soil. A friend of one of our students finished filling the tires with his compressor, they all grabbed shovels, and the boxes started filling up. There were a few times when I was the only one loading a wheel barrow, and I had to "encourage" them a bit, but by 12:30 or so, the boxes were all full to the brim. It was a great opportunity for learning some work ethic and perseverance.

After lunch and a quick lesson on planting and fertilizing, they each got to work planting their own raised bed. By the time they were done, you could see how proud they were.

I think that, built into our DNA, is a kind of biophilia--a love for living, growing things. There's something refreshing about tucking fresh green plants into the soil, but I also think there was more to their excitement than that. They had worked hard and had something to show for it--a real success, and a practical, beautiful, real product. Many of them called their parents over, when they arrived to pick them up at 2:00, to show off their work.

Next week, they'll design scientific experiments that they'll carry out on their gardens, and we'll learn more about fertilizer and lime. This will be the lab portion of their online biology course.

What better way to earn some credits: practising grit, doing science, growing  our own healthy food, and getting some confidence-building small wins under our belts?

And speaking of small wins: This was our first step toward what I hope will continue to grow in the future--rich summer programming for our students!

P.S.: We hope to produce some salsa and put up some veggies and herbs for use by the Depot Kitchen Crew next year. Stay tuned for a post dedicated to this year's awesome Kitchen Crew.


  1. Truly amazing! Thank you for offering this program to help the students graduate on time. Amber enjoyed building the garden bed and picking out her plants for the salsa!! ��

  2. Truly amazing! Thank you for offering this program to help the students graduate on time. Amber enjoyed building the garden bed and picking out her plants for the salsa!! ��

  3. Thanks, Darla! And thank you for your support! Amber's doing a great job!