Learning in the Garden, Part 3

Ah, the glories of basil! / 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 Highridge 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 Highridge Facility for at-risk youth is located on a Palm Beach County-owned property in West Palm Beach, FL. This residential facility accommodates approximately 72 youths, aged 9-16, in six individual dormitories (12 youths per house).

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?

There are two garden facilities: a 3-bed, above-ground planter setup for the commercial kitchen, and one planter alongside each of the 6 dormitories, as described above.

The planters for the commercial kitchen are approximately 100 square feet in total size, and the planters built next to each dormitory are about 16 square feet each.

Working with our sponsors to get the garden area ready / 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?

The commercial garden already existed. Memory Trees cleaned out the planters, added organic soil, and replanted veggies as required for the kitchen staff’s use. For the individual dormitories, we purchased easy-to-assemble cedar garden bed kits, and worked with the facility’s maintenance staff to determine placement.

The garden for the commercial kitchen provides an ongoing supply of cherry tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, lettuce, and a selection of herbs, used in food preparation. The planters placed alongside each individual dormitory introduce the at-risk youths to new skills: learning to plant, nurture and eventually harvest fresh produce that germinates quickly here in South Florida, like various beans and herbs. Most of these young people do not have homes with gardens, and have typically never participated in any outdoor-type activity, like growing food. It is a wonderful experience for them

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

Kitchen staff, as described above, and the students aged 9-16, respectively. Memory Trees offers growing workshops for the students using peat pots, pellets, and seed. The students use these materials to nurture a seed—typically beans—for planting in their dormitory planter, about a week after seeding (once germinated).

A newly planted set of raised beds / image: Memory Trees

How was the garden funded?

Memory Trees funded and managed the build-out. Small financial contributions were received from Walmart, and Florida Power & Light (FPL). In-kind donations included labor provided by approximately 40 employees—volunteers—from FPL.

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

We found great ease in terms of introducing students to growing fresh produce in a small, controlled setting; ready and available residents’ participation for care and maintenance; and an easily accessible resource of added fresh produce for the commercial kitchen.

Prepping seeds in small peat pots. Soon, they will be ready to plant in the gardens at High Ridge. / image: Memory Trees

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

Without a doubt, growing and caring for their own plants is the children’s favorite part of the garden program. They take great pride in doing so!

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, and Learning in Garden, Part 2, with answers by Debbie Lee Bester, Executive Director and co-founder, Memory Trees, on the De George Boys & Girls Club garden project .

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