Room to Grow: Creation of a Sustainable Gardening Program at Fessenden
Wanting to revitalize the community garden, previously used by faculty on campus for many years, and incorporate a sustainable gardening program into the curriculum, but not knowing exactly where to start, Middle School Head Curt Lewellyn reached out to the Parents Association Middle School Community Service representatives for their help. The result was an outpouring of generosity and support from the volunteers and professionals in the community who have joined together to donate many hours of work and planning to get this project under way in order to make this a reality for the boys.
After an initial conversation with Parents Association members, it became clear that advice and assistance from gardening experts would be critical to the program’s success. Parent volunteer Katie Bramley P ’12, ’15, ’17, quickly put the School in touch with Fran Blanchard from Parterre Garden Services
of Greater Boston and Cape Cod. Taking on Fessenden’s project, free of charge, Blanchard and Miles Connors from Parterre examined the existing site and helped us develop a plan for transforming it into a space that will provide a meaningful learning experience for Fessenden boys, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 9. Additionally, Parterre connected the School with several vendors now involved in the project. Bartlett Tree Experts
is donating extensive initial tree work and continued maintenance, while R.P. Marzilli Landscape Contractors
is completing site preparation work free of charge.
The mission of Fessenden’s project is to re-invigorate the community garden and create a curricular experience for Fessenden boys in Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 9 with a focus on academics, community building, and service learning. “I’ve looked at other schools that have been successful in integrating meaningful sustainable gardening programs into the curriculum. The range of hands-on, cross-curricular teaching opportunities for lessons in nutrition, wellness, history, science, mathematics, and world languages--to name a few--is impressive,” remarks Lewellyn. Denise Ackerman P ’15, ’15, adds, "From a wellness perspective, exposing kids to the process of growing food and teaching them awareness of where their food comes from, is very important." Educational programs based on sustainable, edible gardening have been aided by organizations, such as The Edible Schoolyard Project
and the Jamie Oliver Foundation’s Food Revolution
. The interest level and involvement of faculty members from many different departments and grades, including our summer academic program that launched last year, suggests that this project will provide a robust and rich educational experience for the entire Fessenden community.
Blanchard and Connors from Parterre have experience in helping schools establish sustainable gardens for educational purposes and were helpful in focusing the discussion on how we can best achieve our program goals. Hearing that we wanted to start small and expand the project in stages, they emphasized the importance of proper front-end set-up of a larger garden area to enable easy future growth. Blanchard reiterated that the School only has one opportunity for getting the site established and for amending the soil, because doing this work with garden beds in place is extremely difficult. “We discovered that there’s quite a lot to think about when planning a garden and I was thrilled when Parterre agreed to lend their expertise,” remarks Bramley. As we embarked on this project, Parterre recommended that we focus our planning on these essential areas:
- Perform initial organic and inorganic trash removal and site grading. Top dress site with loam and add a generous amount of compost to the growing area.
- Manage invasive species and consider tree removal and pruning for optimal tree health and the safety of community members utilizing garden.Conduct soil tests to determine whether we will need to utilize raised beds in the first year.
- Determine what work can be completed by Fessenden Staff and what will need to be contracted out.
- Establish a baseline for reasonable care and create a work space and area for debris.Consider irrigation needs and identify water sourcing opportunities, incorporating rain barrels, and create a student hand washing station and dirt mitigation area so that soil is not tracked into classrooms and school facilities.
Ongoing Garden Maintenance
- Formulate a plan and schedule for consistent watering (in the summer, two hot days can destroy a garden).
- Plant herbs and other species to deter insects and pests. (We have lots of rabbits on the Fessy campus!)
Seeding Charts, Planting, and Timing
- Choose what we want to grow and remember that it is important that the beds contain biodiversity.
- Consider incorporating a hedge row of pear trees.
- Construct beds to be a maximum of four feet wide for ease of access.
- Observe the shade cast at 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. and plant accordingly
- Grow things we’ll eat, such as strawberries, blueberries and asparagus.
- Stagger the sowing of seeds for production and harvest (ie. plant cucumbers, harvest them then, sow Swiss chard, and lettuce into the fall).
- Consider incorporating flowers for cutting to use during alumni events and other campus events.
“Establishing a functional site without light problems and invasive species, so that students, faculty and volunteers can focus on meaningful activities, such as vegetable growing and harvesting, is the the first step toward achieving our goals,” says Blanchard. Work on the site is underway and seedlings are being sprouted by eager middle school boys all in preparation for the first harvest, which is scheduled for late spring. Lewellyn explains, “This spring, the project is very much a work in progress.” He continues, “Although revitalization of this garden was piloted by the Middle School, there’s already been great interest from Lower and Upper School teachers who wish to incorporate different aspects of the importance of sustainable gardening into their curricula. Additionally, Summer ESL and the Summer Academic programs have both expressed an interest in utilizing the garden in their courses and we want to include space to allow residential families to continue to use the space as well.” Blanchard and Connors will be speaking with boys in each division to generate awareness as well as answer questions about the garden project. Photos and videos detailing the progress as well as information about new service learning and curricular opportunities for Fessy boys will be shared on our website as the Fessy Community Garden comes to fruition.
A huge thank you to the Parents Association volunteers, Katie Bramley, Renee Levin P ’15, Kym Long P ’13, ’15, ’21, Susan Denny P ’16, and Kimberly Simonsen P ’16, as well as Denise Ackerman and Katherine Warming P ’13, ’15 for their expert advice and assistance in getting the project under way! And to our friends at Parterre, Bartlett Tree Experts and R.P. Marzilli Landscape Contractors for their generous gifts of expertise and ongoing services to the community gardening project at Fessenden!Students and Faculty will celebrate the occasion at the Fessy Community Garden Opening Ceremony on June 1, 2012, 9:40-10:00!
We are truly excited about this project and would love to hear your thoughts. Please use the comment section below to tell us what you think!
4/25/2012 7:56 PM
Thanks, Isabelle and Kristina. There will be plenty of opportunity to involve Lower School boys (including pre-K!) in the various projects that this space will hopefully provide. Looking forward to watching/helping it grow - no pun intended. :)
4/25/2012 10:07 AM
This is a WONDERFUL project, Curt. THANK YOU! I was wondering what was going on in that space. Please let the whole community know about this--how can we include the lower school as well? Our previous school did a great job of incorporating all grade levels (including K) into the garden projects and it was very successful. I am happy to help in any way.
4/23/2012 12:00 PM
Wow! Thank you everyone for your tremendous efforts! This will be amazing!!
4/22/2012 7:39 PM
Thanks, Ken and Diane! Looking forward to help from both of you. :)
4/22/2012 11:14 AM
4/21/2012 9:20 AM
The project looks amazing and I can't wait for the end results. What a wonderful addition to our Fessenden Community.
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