San Antonio School students planting their garden
In previous years, work in SosteNica's school garden program has been restricted to the oldest students (5th and 6th graders) in each school, working with SosteNica staff. This year, the Garden Program is unfolding very differently. Thanks to the collaborative training and curriculum design workshop between SosteNica EcoCentro staff and schoolteachers, a tremendous interest has emerged on the part of faculty. At the start of the school year, teachers shared principles of agro-ecology and techniques such as double digging beds and the use of compost with students and their parents, who became highly engaged. At every school, parents have taken a new role, helping with the heavy work of double digging into highly compacted soils to expand the gardens. With so many people getting into the act, even the youngest students have taken an interest, showing up in the garden to contribute their part.
Soil preparation is always the first step in reactivating gardens. Unlike previous years, this year SosteNica staff offered only guidance and supervision while students, parents and teachers did the heavy lifting of double digging the beds. Two feet wide by two feet deep, every bed was prepared to receive baby seedlings. "It's not only that the garden produce vegetables. It's also about the students and the parents having a better understanding of garden science. In the past I have tried to grow tomatoes, but they always get infected with disease and die. Here I have seen that by planting natural repellant plants, the vegetable plants stay healthy. I want to try this in my home garden and experiment with companion planting." commented a parent from Silvio Mayorga school during the inaugural opening of the school garden season.
Teacher Luisa from Betania School predicted with pride "We are going to win the prize for best school garden this year." But there will be stiff competition. At Candelaria Elementary one enthusiastic student is leading his peers. They call him "Señor Lopez", a term of endearment earned by his maturity and commitment. "We never have to call him to help out. In fact, often we will notice that this little boy has let himself into the garden where he is happily attending the plants." observed teacher Aurora.
In previous years, the school gardens have awaited the start of the rainy season to reactivate their gardens. But this year, all six schools began working their gardens in March, thanks to newly installed gravity fed drip irrigation systems, paid for by donations to SosteNica through GlobalGiving. The schools are now demonstrating that, despite climate change, rural families can produce three crops per year, even through the dry season by taking advantage of sustainable appropriate technologies.
All of the schools in this year's program are well on their way to producing healthy nutritious food for the children. At the same time, they are acquiring confidence and understanding for self-sufficiency. Who knows? Before long, these children may become successful entrepreneurs, producing non-traditional crops such as cucumber, pepper and tomato, produce normally imported into the region and too expensive for a rural family to afford. Only time will tell.
Signing the School Garden "Contract"
Candelaria Elementary student "Senor Lopez"
Parent and teacher preparing Candelaria soil
Earliest stages of bed preparation