Front yard education
A school garden grows food and community in east Reno
Debbie Smith lives directly across the street from Libby C. Booth Elementary School. Some people in such a circumstance might put up a “No Trespassing” sign to keep kids out of their personal space. Smith, however, is inviting all of them into her garden.
Together with Carole Bucher, Smith is creating a school and community garden on a quarter acre of her property. The women have partnered with Libby Booth to incorporate the garden into the school curriculum, with help from Sierra Nevada Journeys, an experiential education nonprofit. For example, students could use math to measure the rate of compost decay, study plant biology and science, and the librarian wants to read to kids in the garden. With no real funding source, they are also seeking nonprofit status under the name Reno Urban Gardens Nutrition, Education and Renewal project, or RUGNERP, to procure grant funding for this and future projects.
“I’ve been in that neighborhood for 20-some-odd years,” said Smith. “I know the pros and cons. If we can say this is our land, our community … it’s about stewardship of the planet, the land and the neighborhood.”
Smith and Bucher are both recently unemployed. They met through a list-serve of the Conscious Community Network and were looking for something useful to do with their sudden spare time. Bucher was searching for a socially worthy gardening project, and Smith wanted someone to help her begin a community garden on her property. Two months later, on March 28, the women—along with kids, parents, community members, local organizations and school staff—broke ground on the garden.
The detailed garden plan, created by Jana Vanderhaar of Interpretive Gardens, is designed to show students a variety of ways to grow plants: “Upside down” tomatoes will hang from buckets on a former swing set, straw bales will form raised beds for veggies. Composting, sheet mulching, an “herb spiral” and places for bird habitat are all included. A hoophouse and greenhouse are planned for cooler months.
“This is a real-world experience the kids have to have,” said Stacey Senini, principal of Libby Booth.
Libby Booth Elementary is a year-round school, so students will be able to interact with the garden during the height of the growing season. One hundred percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, indicating a low-income population. Access to healthy food tends to be more expensive, and therefore restrictive, to low-income families, a situation reflected in child diabetes and obesity rates of the poor. So Smith and Bucher thought the garden would be a perfect fit for Libby Booth. It’s an opportunity to teach students about nutrition and growing healthy food, while providing food for the kids and their families. The women also hope to demonstrate to the community members how to incorporate sustainable gardening on their own properties.
“We can’t solve all of these problems,” said Bucher, regarding poverty and health issues. “But we can remind and educate people about what good food is and that you can grow your own and be connected to the process of life.”
What do the kids think about it? Friends Juan Reyes and Juan Armes were quick to answer between preparing straw for the compost pile: “It’s tight,” said Armes. “Yeah,” agreed Reyes, “it’s tight.”