Trowel & Plow: Growing Community
Unami Trowel and Plow is a community of students, families, teachers, and non-educator volunteers who are committed to raising vitamin rich and nutritious produce, and donating it to local food pantries.
Early in the 2012-2013 school year a small group of individuals including, a social studies, Science, Math, Learning Support, and Physical Education teacher, along with the school nurse committed themselves to growing and developing community at Unami. The goal of this community was to bring students, teachers, and other community members together to create a vegetable garden. The hope was and still is that the garden would foster true service learning opportunities.
As the small group of educators worked together, they reached out to Delaware Valley College, The Penn State Extension, local businesses, and community members. We conducted soil testing and developed plans. We have enjoyed the strong support of Bill Yerkes, a retired Bucks County Farmer and former owner of None Such Farms; Scott Smith, the assistant Farm Manager and Horticulture Director at Delaware Valley College; Bonnie Oliver, Master Gardener and Volunteer for the Penn State Extension; Larry Newcomb, Manager of the Chalfont 84 Lumber; Jordan Sellers , Assistant Manager of the Warrington Home Depot; Jeffrey Sparks of Sparks Topsoil; and the owners staff of Victory Gardens. We have also had incredible support from Unami staff, administration, and families. Other school clubs have donated funds to support the gardens and families have taken on the responsibility of watering, weeding, and donating the produce during the summer months.
The PhilosophyOf course, you may be asking why? You might be saying, “That is a nice little project.” We want you to go a bit further as you consider these thoughts. The goal of the garden is to get students, teachers, and community members to work together to grow food with and for others. Students are being active, getting their hands dirty, investing their time and sweat, and learning with the purpose of giving to others.
What is interesting about this process is that students don’t just “do for” others, they “do with”. We don’t always know who is in need. They may be the people working right next to us. Instead of opening up our wallets and giving over money, we are investing our whole selves. We get to work side-by-side with our fellow community members who may be in need. It also allows us to drive home the understanding that nobody wants to be food insecure. Nobody asks to go through tough times. Nobody wants to struggle. Nobody wants to feel helpless. Sometimes the perception of other people doing for us only makes us feel worse, even more helpless. With this project, students can “do with” and in the process build and strengthen a community.
Now that we have built and filled 16 beds; now that we have worked with community members to engage our students and build community; now that we have given back in the way of fresh produce to the New Britain food larder, we must face two big challenges.
First, we have to find a way of maintaining what we have created. None of us want this to be a flash in the pan. Students move on each year. Teachers move on to other schools or retire. This is not a club or activity that is to be possessed by one person or a group of persons. It is meant to be a community that thrives, despite the natural ebbs and flows of time. We are attempting to make this a permanent fixture of our school and want to give it life so that it lives on long after the original participants have moved on. Insight into maintaining community would be greatly appreciated.
Secondly, we now have a physical space that presents environmental challenges. We have relied on school water for the past two years, but we would really like to become even more “green”. Again, we run up against our own limitations and must rely on community. We need to develop a watering system that will supply the beds with water throughout the summer months, and hopefully into the fall, without relying on public water. Any thoughts or support would be greatly appreciated.
If you feel inspired to “do with” please feel free to contribute. We will again need help weeding and watering the garden over the summer. We will need tools to maintain the garden. We will have to add soil and nutrients over the years. We will have needs that we cannot even think of at this point. If you feel inclined and can contribute in some way, do not hesitate. We want our community to continue to grow and prosper and it will take the efforts of many.
After seven years. our beds made of untreated wood began to rot away. Weeds overan the beds and our water system never met our needs. We decided that, if this community was to last, we had to return to our original vision and mission. We decided that we were going to remain committted to community and keep the garden easily accessible to our families and community. To overcome challenges, including watering and deer, we decided to restructure the design of the garedns. We changed the direction of the garden beds, lenghtening them to offset the loss of beds. This compact desing also allows us to maximize and better regualte the water pressure. We skinned the area around the beds and will be covering it with 3/4 inch river rock. This will limit the maintenance around the beds. It will also prevent families from being discouraged due to weeds. We are also installing a temporary fence to deter the deer and groundhogs. Finally, we have implement a square foot planting model, which we hope will allow us to increase yeild, despite the decrease in the number of beds.
To keep a community vibrant and committed to a shared mission, it is important to practice the pause and truly reflect on where you have been, what you are doing in the present, and where you want to be in the future. We hope that our pause and period of reflection, realized with this remodeling, will help our community gathered around helping other thrive into the future.