Learning in the Garden, Part 2

A clever adaptive reuse of pallets / image: Memory Trees

Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director, is a co-founder of Memory Trees, a 501(c)(3) social impact organization with a mission of “Giving Back Life… In Abundance.”  Memory Trees is moving the social needle on food insecurity and inspiring healthier communities by focusing on: education, social change, food donations, female empowerment, sustainable food, entrepreneurship, public / private collaboration, urban farming, self-sufficiency, and microlending. We are very pleased to have Debbie share her thoughts about the De George Boys & Girls Club garden project that Memory Trees developed and continues to facilitate.

–Amy Wagenfeld, Affiliate ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair

Where is your garden located? Is it a public or private facility?

The De George Boys & Girls Club is located on a property owned by the City of West Palm Beach, FL.

Left: A group of children are preparing to work together in the garden. Right: Learning about spacing plants so they have enough room to grow to their fullest capacity. / image: Memory Trees

Please tell us more about your garden facility—what is the total size, and what types of amenities and spaces does it include, such as garden beds, prep area, or an outdoor classroom? How many children use the garden?

The garden includes an outdoor classroom, approximately 16’ x 24’ x 8’ (height). The physical structure was built with weather-treated lumber. Add-ons include a security fence approximately 5’ high on four sides, one 3’ wide gate for access, and shade cloth cover. Garden beds were built inside the classroom. In front of the outdoor classroom, three pallets were repurposed and used for planting produce. Garden beds and above-ground planters were added alongside the structure. At the back of the classroom, we planted a row of 10 lemon and lime trees.

Approximately 20-30 Boys and Girls Club members use the garden weekly, on a rotational basis, presenting opportunities for several hundred students to participate in the gardening program during the course of one contracted project period, typically 12 months. The program has been repeated annually for the past 2 years.

Gardening is all about being curious and engaged. For many children at the Boys and Girls Club, this is their first experience with gardening and growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs. / image: Memory Trees

What is your role in the design/programming of the garden, and what are the goals of the garden and garden programs?

We found an existing garden in a dilapidated state at the Club, tore it down, and rebuilt it. Apart from the structure, which we rebuilt, the entire design, layout, planning, and programming was created by Memory Trees.

The objective is to provide better access to resources for health for the students. The students learn and participate by planting, nurturing, and harvesting fresh produce. Their caregivers are invited to join them in learning about fresh produce, and using it to make simple, healthy meals, on a regular basis.

Who uses the garden? If you have children with varied ages and needs using the garden, how do you program for them?

Club members use the garden to plant, nurture, and harvest. But, garden access is not limited to the Club members because it is located within a public park. When Memory Trees staff delivers programs to the students, it is within the context of STEM-based educational workshops, with topics focusing on basic science experiments and literacy, in addition to gardening activities. Children who participate in the program typically range in age from 6-10 years.

Left: A part of the gardening program at the Boys and Girls Club involves identifying insects and learning about how some benefit the garden and others do not. Right: Packing up produce to take home; and who doesn’t love a fresh, sweet, cherry tomato? / image: Memory Trees

How was the garden funded?

Memory Trees funded and managed the build-out. Small financial contributions were received from Boys & Girls Clubs, Walmart, and Florida Power & Light (FPL). In-kind donations included labor provided by approximately 35 employees—volunteers—from FPL.

In an effort to promote recycling and creative reuse, grocery store Styrofoam trays are used to hold the herbs that are harvested in the garden. / image: Memory Trees

From your perspective, what would you want designers to know about what works in your garden?

Pros: great public access and visibility, fresh produce can be grown ‘anywhere,’ community involvement, ongoing club members’ participation for care and maintenance, attractive setting.

Cons: public access increases the risk of vandalism, inadequate irrigation (tough to add/change after the build-out).

What is the children’s favorite part of the garden?

Without a doubt, their favorite part is growing and caring for their own plants. It is wonderful to see the pride they take in doing this.

Left: I wish this leek was ready to dig up, now! Right: Watering is a garden task that many children and adults enjoy. / image: Memory Trees

Answers by Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director and co-founder, Memory Trees

For more information, see Learning in the Garden, Part 1, with answers by Kasey Wooten, Outdoor Science and Garden Consultant at A.P. Giannini Middle School.

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