Garden Habitat Program
If summer school meant being outside, playing with bunnies and chickens, planting seeds and cooking, perhaps it wouldn’t have such a bad reputation. This week, this kind of summer school starts at Urban Roots Garden Classrooms.
Urban Roots has had a busy year setting up its farm and class space on West Fourth Street and launching its Garden Habitat Program, a collaboration with schools in the Washoe County School District in which students and parents will help to establish a school garden, and teachers will use the garden to teach. The program will start officially in the fall, but Urban Roots has been planning the curriculum and logistics for more than two years, according to development coordinator Lauren Gonce.
“A lot of teachers are excited at the idea of having a garden at their schools, but they are just so busy that it can become an overwhelming project,” she says. “We’ve been putting together a program that lets them use the garden with their students without having to worry about maintaining it too.”
Currently, 10 schools have applied to the program, but Gonce says that they plan to accommodate more next year if the program is successful. Four schools—High Desert Montessori, Hug High, Mount Rose Elementary and Heart to Hand—are the first to be accepted.
Once a school is accepted into the program, Urban Roots will survey the school’s site to plan for the garden, which will be led by two school garden coordinators—parent volunteers. Teachers will then work with Urban Roots’ education specialists on curriculum integration.
“Teachers used to say to us, ‘It sounds great, but I just can’t take this on,’ but now we provide them with every resource,” says Gonce.
Gonce also says much of the appeal is the link between gardening and different content areas, including science, math, social studies, physical education and culinary arts. Teachers will also have access to a blog to document their students’ progress.
“A few schools have had pilot programs, and it has gone really well,” Gonce says. “Now that we have a space to test out ideas, we can better help teachers.”
The Fourth Street farm space is fairly new to Urban Roots. Since March, much of the farm has been planted, including an herb spiral garden, apple trees—whose branches will eventually grow together to create a place for kids to sit underneath—and a mini-berry forest, where all berries will be edible to let kids “forage.” There’s also a bunny, two chickens and many lizards and other critters that scamper around the plants. A cooking station will be available next to a vegetable patch, and a hoop house will keep plants growing year-round. A geodesic dome and a few solar-powered offices provide covered space, and the solar panels will keep the entire operation off the grid, according to Gonce. She says that most of the structures will be plant-based, including the apple grove and an in-progress green fence made out of vines. Composting and beekeeping sections are also in the works.
“It’s just a great place for kids to come and explore,” she says. “It’s really nice for anyone to be here, including adults.”