Support for local school gardens has grown in the past few years as schools have begun to focus on teaching students about their food, nutrition, and wildlife, as well as to utilize their classroom skills in an applied manner. Some of these programs are focused on farm-to-school projects where the students grow food served in the cafeteria, and others focus on gardens as beautification projects.
Many schools can’t often afford the costs of building a garden space, and many rely on local grants to help with their projects. Many local garden clubs, such as Quechee’s, have begun grant programs to support the various needs of the community relative to growing food, reclaiming green space, and building outdoor classrooms.
The Quechee Garden Club was established in 1989 to focus on beautifying public spaces, community engagement, and the education of both members and the public about conservation, beautification, and the pure joy of gardening,
Since the 2013/2014 school year, the Quechee Garden Club has been offering a one-time grant of $1,000 to a school in the Quechee area that meets their grant criteria. In past years, they have accepted grant proposals from and supported projects at the Upper Valley Waldorf School, the Ottauquechee School, and the Mid-Vermont Christian School.
The club has three specific criteria that school project proposals have to meet. First, to encourage the joy of gardening, second, to sponsor civic beautification, and third, to conserve natural resources and wildlife.
For the 2018/2019 school year, the proposal accepted by the Quechee Garden Club came from Sheila Powers, Principal of the White River School, a local public elementary school in Hartford, offering Pre-K through 5th grade. In the summer of 2017, Elizabeth Cadle, parent of a White River School student, landscaper, and labyrinth builder, volunteered over 100 hours to initiate the Labyrinth Garden behind the school.
According to Ginia Allison, one of the members of the garden club’s grant committee, the Labyrinth Garden began as a cleanup of the area organized by Creative Lives Afterschool Program; an afterschool group made up of primarily students from the White River School. They worked to prepare the area, removing accumulated debris and weeds and then began building the labyrinth. Next, the White River School proposed the Landscape Remediation Project. According to the proposal sent by Sheila, the “labyrinth garden is designed to transform a piece of land, connect students and faculty with the outdoors, and provide the faculty with tools that complement the curriculum.” The grant will be used to prepare the area by removing poison ivy and other harmful plants, establish some perennials, and design for pesticide-free management with the intention that the Labyrinth Garden be accessible during the day.
The garden serves as an outdoor classroom that is Americans with Disability Act accessible with an emphasis on collaboration across networks, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Students in the various grades will work on parts of it, applying their math and science skills, and build a stronger school community. There are other parts of the project, including the building of a concrete retaining wall, that are not included in the scope of the Quechee Garden Club grant, but are also happening this year.
Students thrive in these outdoor classrooms, but without the funds in school budgets to build them, schools have to rely on community resources. Without grant initiatives such as the one supplied by the Quechee Garden Club, many schools would be unable to bring these applied education environments to their students. In the past year, while the Quechee Garden Club has supported several projects of their own, the club’s focus on education and school environments benefit the broader Hartford/Quechee community immensely.