GREEN

Temporary Educational Garden
with Trenton Grows Inc. 501(c)(3), Victoria Covert
Client: International Academy of Trenton Charter School
Trenton, New Jersey
Completed Spring 2018

With the nonprofit, youth-oriented community gardening organization Trenton Grows, we established a “Garden Club” for first- through fifth-grade students at an underperforming charter school.  We held twice-weekly meetings with about 25 to 30 student volunteers between the ages of six and 12, with the intended goal to facilitate educational experiences in gardening, nutrition, and fitness. 

With the help of the students, we collaboratively designed, built, and operated a small, temporary educational garden on the school’s grounds using mostly recycled materials and a budget of approximately $1,000.  This project involved activities including: proposal writing, curriculum development, small-scale fundraising and crowdsourcing, material research, resource procurement, and most importantly, cooperative planning and coordination.  As the garden progressed, and the fruits of their labor became increasingly tangible, we witnessed a marked improvement in participant engagement, interconnection, and overall morale.  

Oblique Axonometric Plan

The temporary garden, built on a vacant concrete lot of the school’s front grounds, was composed of the following elements: 

  • A curvilinear snake of upcycled tires spray-painted light colors to decrease thermal absorption (and preserve water), filled with topsoil and fertilizer, and planted with non-edible flowers to aid in the local pollinator ecology, and circumscribing an informal gathering space for Garden Club meetings
  • Soil delivery staging area on tarp, with stacked tire storage cylinders, and wheelbarrow; pre-existing gravel pile below
  • Chalk hopscotch area (to encourage exercise and release excess energy before entering the meeting circle)
  • Ten unbleached canvas bags of soil, planted with edible fruits and vegetables (including lettuce, swiss chard, collard greens, tomatoes, strawberries, and more) on a row of three tarp-covered, recycled standard-size shipping pallets (with tarp protecting plants from absorbing chemicals leached from treated pallet wood), and additional edible plantings in adjacent pots; hay bale for lining planting topsoil (to retain soil moisture and bolster organic fertilization)
  • Leftover tires as exercise hurdles, also used as an impromptu seating area
  • 50-gallon rain barrel on plastic pallet, with hose rack; tool storage bin with shovels, trowels, watering buckets, knee pads; makeshift waiting bench constructed with wood plank on stacked plastic pallets

Through this hands-on process, we introduced the students to every phase of the organic gardening process, from seed to harvest:  

Germinating seeds during our first Trenton Grows “Garden Club” meeting

The existing site (pre-garden), across the street from the pickup-dropoff entrance of the school

A snake of colorful tire planters circumscribing informal gathering space (topsoil delivery in background; fertilizer bin not pictured)

Garden Club participants fill the tire planters with topsoil and fertilizer…

Planting non-edible flower seeds and seedlings for the local pollinator ecology

Makeshift exercise hurdles, canvas planter bags on tarp-covered recycled shipping pallets…

Filled with topsoil and fertilizer

Planting and watering edible fruit and vegetable seedlings (produce types noted above)

Weeding, watering, taking care of our garden, drawing with chalk, and playing hopscotch

Celebrating our successful harvest with friends and family (pre-existing gravel pile in foreground)

A participant marvels at the “magic” that came from a simple handful of seeds, placed in soil, with plenty of water and sun

Saying goodbye, and sending participants home with the fruits of their labor

It was a joy to mentor these amazing and enthusiastic individuals, and on the final day of Garden Club we feasted on our harvest with the students and their families, sending each family home with the remaining plants, produce, and gardening supplies.  Although the garden’s host school closed permanently at the end of the academic year, some of the children have continued to keep in contact with us, and we’ve provided encouragement and support whenever possible.  

An endearing drawing given to us by a Garden Club participant

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