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EDUCATION

 


City farms provide children an opportunity to learn about ecology and create their own
"Living laboratories"

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LEARNING FROM SCHOOL GARDENS
dot.gif (88 bytes)SCIENCE: ecological literacy
dot.gif (88 bytes)ECONOMICS: rural and urban
dot.gif (88 bytes)POLITICS: rich vs poor
dot.gif (88 bytes)HEALTH: nutritious food
dot.gif (88 bytes)ART: aesthetics

Community gardens and school gardens. Recreation and education. Food for the soul and food for thought. At the start of the last century, almost 80 percent of the population were raised on farms. What a reality teacher! Now cityfolk in both the developed and developing world are recognising the values and ethics of an agrarian lifestyle. City gardens can aid both urban planners and educators.

We do it together
In community gardens people share land to grow plants, exchange resources, socialise and cultivate a sense of "community". Empty lots, apartment complexes ground or land next to social centres, land near temples, mosques and churches can be converted to community gardens. These gardens become valuable green spaces in densely populated neighborhoods.

Such gardens are mushrooming even in the US. Local residents, tired of vacant land, trash, and crime are transforming vacant lots into community green spaces with vegetables, flowers, sitting areas and playgrounds. It is estimated that there are 15000 organised community gardens in the US. A reason for their growing popularity is that they address the unique needs of the particular neighborhood.

Towards sustainability
Also, many such gardens are environmentally sound. That's because community gardeners are often immigrants from developing countries or rural areas. In some cases, they can't afford commercial fertilisers and pesticides. So, they practice sustainable ways of adding nutrients (composting and intercropping), conserving water (mulching, mounds and furrows), and controlling pests (like the use of marigolds to repel nematodes, use of soap solutions in place of commercial pesticides).

Rural gardeners retain traditional practices that were developed before industrial agriculture.

We all learn together
Growing children and growing plants gel well together. It helps them understand the connection between their health, the food they eat, and where it comes from. In addition to that they learn plant science and ecology. School gardens have been known to increase their confidence levels too. Through simple science experiments and hands-on activities, schoolchildren are able to see, smell, taste and touch plants.

Many of our schools offer students cold, concrete school yards with chain link fences that make schools look more like prisons. By transforming the school ground to include nature, the learning opportunities literally come alive. Schools need to redesign their play space to provide students with a healthy and safe place to play, learn, and develop a genuine respect for nature and each other.

Animation playgrounds

Extracts from a report based on research done by Oliver Ginsberg, Chairperson of the Association of Adventure Playgrounds and Cityfarms (AKiB) in Berlin, on ninety such projects across six countries in Europe — what they contribute to sustainable urban development:

It was the Danish landscape architect C. Th. Sorensen who first recognized the importance of "skrammellegepladsen" (rubbish playgrounds), which should give children access to various construction play materials and the possibility to create their own play environment rather then provide them with already furnished, neat play sites.

In the official programmes of sustainable development children and young people are obviously neglected. Within the 500 pages of the "Agenda 21" the world "child" or "children" appears just about 60 times, while the word "government" is used more than 1000 times! They are usually just mentioned in connection with social infrastructure like schools or day care centers. Their specific (play) needs are hardly mentioned, neither their need for open space within the city. The fact that adequate play space tends to disappear from the cities even within the frame of "vitalization" and "interior development" simply has no impact on the minds of many political decision makers. This kind of play deprivation however is a very important part of the reason for increasing health problems and juvenile violence as has paradoxically been acknowledged most strongly in the US lately.

The fact, that the contributions of adventure playgrounds and city farms to sustainable development are still underestimated in the public perhaps coincides with the fact, that children and their way of life which is inevitably playful are themselves restricted to the parts of "extras" in the debate on sustainability. They are often reduced to some anonymous upgrowing or future generations and their specific (play) needs and rights are hardly ever adequately addressed or, if their needs are articulated, it is usually done in such a general way that hardly any definite conclusions can be drawn therefrom as far as urban planning is concerned, which should adjust to these needs.

School gardens can become mini-farms and a source of healthy, nutritious food, an opportunity for environmental restoration and a well of inspiration for children, teachers and parents. School yards are an amazing land resource but, often neglected.

Also, educators say that outdoor classrooms are a priority. Students use outdoor classrooms to explore various outdoor themes like the weather.

Stepping outside the classroom to answer a question, plant seeds, or observe insects on flowers not only adds variety to the curriculum, but also motivates many students who are less engaged in the usual class routines. Students who strain to sit still in class may be captivated — and stimulated — watching a beetle make its way through a just-turned pile of dirt. When students have the opportunity to ask their own questions about things that interest them and discover the answers, they are taking vital steps to becoming lifelong learners.

"For more than ten thousand years, cultivation of land and the rearing of farm animals was a "natural" part of civilization. Farming is the root of the urbanisation process, the dynamics of which in turn has driven farming out of our daily experiences."

Teaching sustainability
Children are also introduced directly to the impacts of our present global food production and delivery systems. They'll understand depletion of ecologically-productive lands for the purpose of growing cash crops, pesticide, energy and water use, transportation, climate change, international trade routes, nutrition, global economics and social justice issues much better.

School gardens saves urban children from being detached from the food chain. For example in 2003, the Japan Slow Food Association asked 100,000 kids to paint pictures to decorate the dinner table. Few of them drew real vegetables and fish. Most drew pictures of the plastic containers that line the shelves of grocery stores.

Now that wouldn’t happen if you had a small garden with vegetables in your school yard.

 

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