San Pedro School Garden Project
Date: April 10, 2009
School: San Pedro Elementary School
Participants: Grades Two and Five
Location: Valverde Vega, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Purpose : To increase the students’ knowledge of basic gardening principles using organic methods, local plants, and common hand tools.
At 7:00 a.m. on April 2, 2009 the staff and volunteers at Finca Sarchi Trojas arrived at the school bringing live plants, tools, seeds, compost, much enthusiasm and what was to become the most popular garden aid - live earthworms.
The goal for that first day was to familiarize the students with the plan to transform a barren piece of ground into an herb and bean garden.
This exchange of knowledge was made possible by the willingness of the school administrator to accept our commitment to sponsor this project and the help of the agriculture teachers and the English teacher.
We started out by explaining that the soil needed fertilizer and organic material in order to grow healthy plants. Together, we formed raised beds and using shovels, we turned the soil over to a depth of 40cm.
Every child was given the opportunity to use the tools and soon the clean white shirts and blouses were showing that no one was afraid of a little dirt.
We choose two beds to be planted with seeds and live plants and a third bed that would be one of several compost sites, to be planted in about four months.
The garden site is located just five meters from the door to the school cafeteria so obtaining food wastes will be easy.
We explained that all fruit, vegetables and grains would compost and that meat and dairy would not. We told them that properly managed compost does not smell, because the microbes in the soil start the decomposition and soon fungi and earthworms join in the process.
The school cook came out to get a look at the herbs we planted and to ask where she could place the kitchen wastes.
April 14, 2009
We returned to the school to expand the work to include the fifth grade students. The well-organized WWOOF volunteers prepared a lesson plan that focused on three aspects of farming; soil building by making organic compost, saving seeds from healthy plants and planting root crops from stem cuttings.
Two of the volunteers utilized their teaching experience to involve the students in fun games.
Carolien, a Dutch volunteer who is working here for a few months; had the students share their knowledge about compost; how it is made, what it is composed of and what you can use it for.
Divided into two groups, students were given five minutes to gather as much brown and green organic material as possible.
Every student actively ran around the school property, looking for anything they thought would be useful for starting a compost heap.
The stacks were measured, and the group with the biggest started piecing together the set of wooden parts for the compost box that would be finished and filled to the top that day.
After hitting in coffee sticks to strengthen their creation the class can now be proud of a slightly wobbly though sturdy enough box; in which, as you’re reading this, rich soil is being formed.
Most students were captivated by Virginia’s dynamic character, good Spanish skills and asked her all about the good and the bad French language she knew, yet showed interest afterwards in getting to know more details on the vegetable of that day: squash.
To start with, all students imagined what could possibly be found inside and created a drawing with their ideas.
Needless to say, when the orange pumpkin-like thing was cut in half; they found out that its inside world wasn’t quite as fascinating as the colorful impressions on their papers.
Yet excitement returned the moment the students realized they would go and take out the seeds. After an energetic ‘’splash and dash as much as you can’’ moment at the school’s outside basins, the cleaned out squashes were empty and the sieve full of shining clean seeds.
The foreman of the farm, Angel Salazar Diaz, demonstrated how to plant yucca; a tuberous, starchy vegetable that is a staple in Costa Rica. When harvesting the plant the stalks are saved and cut into segments of 10 to 15 centimeters in length and planted horizontally about 6 centimeters below grade.
Because the plant grows two to three meters high and requires about nine months to mature (at our elevation of 1200 meters), we planted along a fence away from any foot traffic.
Angel explained the various uses of the plant including its use as almidon (like cornstarch)
Overall, these two school visits were an interesting experience for both sides. The students now have the start of a green garden to look after and being so lively, they encouraged us to plan future visits.