How does your garden grow?

post_full_1272330312school-garden-4-b

A few weeks ago, I hinted at a very cool new project we were embarking upon at GOOD after I visited the amazing school gardens at Carthay Circle Elementary here in LA. The Carthay garden is an educational oasis in the middle of LA—a lush, thriving outdoor classroom where raised beds are thick with salad greens and trees drip with papayas and bananas. It’s also somewhat of an anomaly. Only 100 LAUSD schools have gardens, which sounds pretty impressive until you realize that we have 900 LAUSD schools. How could GOOD help those other 800 schools get growing?

bancroft map

For inspiration, we looked around GOOD’s neighborhood. And we didn’t have to look far until we saw the hot, flat, forbidding exteriors of Bancroft Middle School, which, as you can see, is about an heirloom tomato’s throw from GOOD. It occurred to us that this is a place design can really help. Coming up with a modular, scalable, affordable idea for how schools can convert those conventional acres of blacktop to a garden can help teachers, parents and administrators get funding and tools to seed their garden project. So last week, we finally launched our latest project where we’re looking for folks like you to Design a School Garden with LAUSD—but the absolute best part about it is that we’re going to build the design of the winner right here in LA, at an LAUSD school in need.

Cathay Center school garden

But we’ve got help, lots of help. Here’s part of our team meeting at Carthay Circle, folks from the California School Garden Network, Mia Lehrer & Associates, and the great Environmental Media Network. But the most important person is that guy over to the right, Mud Baron, the LAUSD’s green policy director, who drives around LA in a truck which is filled at all times with 1000 to 4000 seedlings for schools.

When he came to GOOD one day he let us pilfer his mobile nursery (and took some amazing shots of all of us doing it). I packed four dozen teeny vegetable plants into this old coffee cup I found in the trash and took my future garden home on the bus.

I could have put my seedlings in the ground, I suppose. But I realized in order to launch this project, I needed to really dig deep into the issues around it. I needed to see for myself just how easy it would be to build our own outdoor classroom on our slab of concrete. So I reached out to my own in-house designer, Keith Scharwath, to create a raised bed.

A few days, and a little under $200 later, we had an extremely solid planter box.

Which could also double as a great coffin.

What was once concrete and heat is now a food-production center. And we did it in a weekend.

The garden has become the new center of the household. When we wake up in the morning and it’s the first place we look. We can’t stop ourselves from paying a long visit in the afternoons. At night, it’s the topic of the dinner conversation. Now I know what kids at those 800 LAUSD schools are missing. Every student should have this experience. Every adult should have this experience.

What ideas do you have for the ultimate, affordable outdoor classroom? Check out the contest, Design a School Garden with LAUSD (and We’ll Build It!), and please help us spread the word.

The school garden contest illustration is by the amazing Will Etling at GOOD.

This entry was posted in building, crafting, creating, designing, eating, Good, growing. Bookmark the permalink.
  • tacovan

    What did you plant? We're making a fire escape herb garden this weekend.

  • Alissa

    From left, 10 kinds of tomatoes (including heirlooms), watermelon, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, six kinds of peppers, artichokes, bok choy, swiss chard, onions, chives, three kinds of basil, Italian parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel and strawberries.

  • http://www.gardenology.org Gardenology.org

    This is really great, or should I say Good? :-)

    Really, growing your own food is an experience unlike any other. It makes you wonder what the meaning of modern life is, and why our food is produced with so many chemicals, then processed with so many more into the food we're sold.

    School gardens should be mandatory in all elementary schools at the least.

  • http://www.gardenology.org Gardenology.org

    This is really great, or should I say Good? :-)

    Really, growing your own food is an experience unlike any other. It makes you wonder what the meaning of modern life is, and why our food is produced with so many chemicals, then processed with so many more into the food we're sold.

    School gardens should be mandatory in all elementary schools at the least.

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  • http://www.largepot.net/information-news/preparing-planter-boxes/ Large Planter Box

    Excellent! Great article, I already saved it to my
    favourite,

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  • http://www.josephinehome.co.uk/ Bath Linen

    Really well written blog – thanks. Looking forward to reading more in the future.

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  • Wal

    Hi, we are looking at doing something similar in our concrete courtyard. Just wondering, is there a reason why the plant box has a bottom? Is it for moving it around if need be? What I am not sure about, is how any excess water would drain out from the plant box if it is enclosed?

  • Alissa

    It’s good to have a bottom to insulate the soil from the concrete (which can get hot). We drilled holes in the bottom boards to help it drain. It also helps to add some lining to the inside so you don’t lose your soil.

  • Wal

    Thank Alissa!