A step-by-step guide to starting a garden at your school with WE Take Charge.
BY AMY VAN ES
When was the last time students at your school got their hands dirty? Not just metaphorically speaking, but actually dirty?
With WE Take Charge—a WE Schools local action campaign focused on fostering environmentally sustainable practices—you’ll find plenty of reasons to grab a shovel and start digging! All you need to do is look at the facts. For example, did you know that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas?
Not enough to make you want to join the effort to conserve our natural resources? How about the fact that at least 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans each year? That’s the equivalent of a garbage truck dumping out its waste every single minute.
Now that we have your attention, let’s talk about the benefits of flexing your green thumb—because that list is also long! A garden can be an amazing resource for your school and the community you belong to. Not only is it good for the environment, while also providing food, studies show that ecotherapy—that is, finding wellbeing through nature, like gardening to improve your health—can have a positive impact on mental health.
When committing to WE Take Charge, remember, this isn’t a one person show. It takes a lot of planning (i.e. time, so don’t wait until spring to start!), teamwork and passionate involvement to seed change.
Think you’ve got a group of students that would love to watch a garden bloom to life? First you’ll want to check out the handy resources offered online, then you’ll want to read the step-by-step guide below to get inspiration for growing your own lush plot of fruit and veg. Good luck and happy watering!
Step 1: Selecting the Site
Just like students cramming for exams, your garden needs the perfect conditions to absorb the essentials.
To help your seedlings grow big and strong, consider how much sunlight and water your garden will get based on its location. Choose wisely before you break ground and keep in mind that most outdoor plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Once you’ve got a site in mind, take a few days to monitor how much sun exposure it receives on the daily.
It’s also important to make sure your garden has ideal water conditions—that means it’s both close to a water source for easy access and the site has good drainage. When plotting out your garden, make sure your site isn’t situated on a steep slope or on a low point in your school yard. Otherwise, the water could pool in your garden and flood when it rains. Take our word for it, plants aren’t into that.
Step 2: Planning the Garden
Once you’ve decided on the perfect location, it’s time to map out your garden! This is a great opportunity to work STEM learning and teamwork into your action plan.
Encourage the group to create a blueprint. To begin, measure the dimensions of your designated plot of land and draw it to scale. Remember to include the garden boundaries, water access, as well as any paths you may want to run through it.
Next, decide what you’d like to grow. What is the purpose of your garden? Are you aiming to grow food (which you can share with those in need) or do you want to honour nature on your school grounds with flowers? Think about the impact you would like to make through WE Take Charge and let your garden do the talking!
Use research to inform your decision. Once you’ve chosen what to plant, as a team, look into the different needs of each seedling and make maintenance notes in your action plan. For example, tomato seeds typically need to be planted about two feet apart from one another, and yield about 30 tomatoes each per season. So, if you want to grow a hundred tomatoes, you’ll need to have 3-4 plants.
Step 3: Breaking Ground and Planting
Finally—it’s time to start digging your garden!
First, check the soil conditions of your chosen site. If mud sticks to your shoes when you walk across it, the soil is probably too wet. Conversely, if it’s completely dry, that won’t work either. You want to make sure it’s moderately moist.
Once you’re sure the soil is ready, grab your shovels and trowels and get moving! Aim to turn the soil until it’s no longer compacted and loose enough for you to plant easily.
Lastly, stake out the various areas of your garden and get planting! Before you’re ankle deep in soil, though, carefully read the directions on the plant or seed package. Most will tell you how deep you should dig the holes, and how far apart each should be—info you should also have recorded from the research we suggested compiling during the planning phase.
Step 4 + 5: Tending to the Garden & Observing Impact
The fun isn’t over once you’ve planted your garden. You’ll need to create a schedule for students/classes to take turns watering, weeding, observing growth, and harvesting the plants when the time comes.
You can also consider holding events and involving other community groups in your garden to make an even bigger impact! Raising awareness is key.
If the goal of your garden is to promote green eating and increase knowledge around the benefits of community gardens, find facts to support your impact (we offer lots of research resources online). Remind people that the issue of food security isn’t just a problem in developing countries. Over 4 million Canadians live with some degree of food poverty. This means either they don’t know where their next meal will come from or they have anxiety over how to get nutritious meals onto their family’s plates.
By educating others about sustainable practices like community gardens, you’re contributing to the larger effort to shape a more environmentally conscious world—and that’s certainly an impact worth growing.