The idea of creating and maintaining a multifaceted community garden is an intimidating venture for most middle school students, yet for those in the gardening class at Memorial Middle School in Albany, Oregon, working on this project has become part of their average school day.
New Features at Memorial Garden
From spreading bark chips and compost to harvesting and selling their own black beans, the elective for 6th, 7th and 8th graders has proven to teach more than just basic gardening techniques. Together with their teacher Mallory Marquet, they are working hard to get the entire community involved in creating a beautiful, functional learning space where everyone is welcome to participate.
The spring season is especially busy for the Memorial garden, and this year is no exception. With local speakers coming in twice a month, students are constantly learning about different aspects of gardening and are encouraged to apply what they learn into their garden space.
Most recently, they have planted a monarch butterfly habitat with milkweed and host flowers, installed a worm box to efficiently turn food scraps into nutrient-rich compost, and set-up a water catchment system. The handicap garden with wide paths and raised beds for wheelchair accessibility is also a new feature this year. Students are even working on an extensive recycling project, promoting the importance and value of recycling to fellow classmates and local elementary schools.
Gardening: Educational in Many Ways
Talking to some of Marquet’s students, it is evident that participating in the gardening class has given them insight on how food systems work and the benefits of growing their own fruits and vegetables. Owen Sullivan, a 7th grade garden student, has learned to appreciate all of the effort involved. “It makes me really think about where food comes from,” says Sullivan, “I think about all the work that goes into one apple.” Tamiya Mitchell, also in 7th grade, notes her increased awareness of environmental issues surrounding conventional agriculture. “I’ve learned that what you choose to eat can really affect the ecosystem.” Mitchell says that since taking the class, she has been inspired to think about food differently and try new things.
Marquet has also noticed how working in the school garden has positively affected her students. “They get to see how food is produced from start to finish. They prepare the soil, plant seeds, weed and water the plants as they grow and then harvest. We even get to sample most of what they grow in the classroom,” says Marquet. “It changes their attitude about trying different fruits and vegetables, and the students are excited to learn about ways to prepare and eat everything they grow.” As Eli Gomez, 8th grade garden student, proudly puts it, “We get to sample something that isn’t from Safeway.”
Plenty to do, Year-round
This gardening class stays plenty busy throughout the school year. The Adopt a Farmer program by Oregon Agriculture has allowed the class to be bussed out to a local farm to learn firsthand what the farmers there do and all that is involved in their work. The Memorial Middle School gardening class also supplies squash grown in their own garden to West Albany High School’s Thanksgiving baskets in November for families in need.
When they’re not out in the garden, they’re learning vocabulary related to gardening and all about the technical aspects of horticulture such as germination and parts of plants.
Behind the Scenes
Malorie Marquet has spent over 20 years teaching. She started as a literacy coach and has taught language arts and reading. Her husband, William Drabkin was one of the first organic farmers in Oregon in the 70’s.
How does she do everything on an elective class budget? Malorie’s class was fortunate to win the Ag Fest award last spring which has provided them with the funding for many of their projects. They’ve also receive donations and grants from Wilco, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and the City of Albany. Oregon State University’s Master Gardeners have given seeds, and their Adopt a Farmer, Karen Scheeler, has donated multiple types of compost.
For parents interested in starting gardens at home with young children, Marquet has valuable advice. “Start small,” she emphasizes. “Even just a small patch or container garden can be such a rewarding experience.” Marquet recommends focusing on vegetables that are fast and easy to grow and harvest such as peas, radishes, beans and kale. Simple tasks such as weeding and watering can get kids outside and learning about the growing process. Making fun garden signs or labels is also a great activity to spark interest and get kids excited about their space.
Marquet hopes to continue expanding the garden program and is always looking for community support. Gardening supplies, soil and amendments, as well as monetary contributions are all greatly welcomed and appreciated. For more information about how to get involved or to make a donation, contact Marquet directly at email@example.com.
By Sarah Nieminski