The Children’s Garden at Campos was created last year in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction after Children’s Workshop School generously took it upon themselves to seek and won a grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City to help repair the garden. In gratitude, the garden decided to use the funds to pilot a gardening experience in a space opened up after a tree was knocked down during the Hurricane. We set out to design as unique, functional, and diverse—and un–a children’s garden for the students to learn about gardening, food, history, science, art, and the environment.
Instead of soil beds, the garden used straw bales, which are prepped with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer for about ten days and topped with soil and compost. Inside the circle, the kids planted a Three Sisters Garden, which is a Native American companion planting technique that uses maize/corn, squash and climbing beans. The garden became a therapeutic and safe space for at-risk youth to learn how to grow food and do some basic in-garden cooking. Youth who have benefitted include a group of girls from a local group home, who came to the garden with a background of family trauma and turmoil and found a sense of peace—and their palates–among the plants.
Citizens Committee for New York City Funds Permanent Children’s Garden
The straw bales were an ideal vehicle for starting a pilot children’s gardening program, but were not intended for long-term use, but rather, to break down into compost at the end of the season.
The community was very positive and excited about the program and has expressed a strong desire to continue and expand youth programming. The program was such a success that we want to make it permanent so we can continue to work with area youth, and to expand the reach of the garden.
This winter, NYC Foodscape, on behalf of Campos Garden, sought a Citizen’s Committee for New York City grant to transform what was the temporary straw bale garden space into permanent raised beds and create a long-term space for children to learn and grow. In June, the Children’s Garden was awarded the grant and design and construction began right away.
The garden space was designed by Campos gardener, Chris Batenhurst. Here’s a preliminary sketch of the design:
The garden is 12 feet x 16 feet in total size and each of the four unusually shaped beds is 85″ x 12″ x 67″ c 36″ x 57.” The beds were designed to be large, but still allowing youth and adults to reach all parts of the bed. In the middle of this attractive garden space is a 4-foot diameter Three Sisters Garden in the middle.
The beds are made of reclaimed old growth pine boards from a demolished building near the garden. The wood is over 100 years old and almost 4 inches thick in some places. Young volunteers from nearby Campos Housing helped fill the beds with a combination of topsoil, compost manure and pure organic compost, purchased from Urban Garden Center, along with some New York City compost donated by Green Thumb NYC.
2014 Children’s Garden Goals
The planting and teaching goals for this garden are:
1) To plant as much as possible without overtaxing the beds’ fertility or causing competition for water and soil;
2) To feature a broad overview of the types of plants one can grow in the garden, including methods of companion planting;
3) To create an environmental classroom to inspire stewardship of the land;
4) To give youth as much opportunity to taste and cook as many different combinations of healthy food and herbs as possible; and
5) To give youth confidence and leadership skills so they can share their knowledge and mentor other peers into making healthy food choices and taking responsibility for the future of their food system.
We will continue to work with Children’s Workshop School during the school year, as well as the Good Shepherd residents. We have held meetings with local groups about expanding our program to reach more area youth, including further developing our relationship with Campos Housing Community Center currently being run by University Settlement through their Cornerstone program, including using the center for indoor workshops, meeting spaces and cooking. The garden program will also have a smaller late season and season extension aspect with a proposed Hoop House for continuing late season crops, such as greens and spinach, and for starting plants in late winter/early spring for the following season.
The youth will learn about gardening and food and take produce home with them and learn skills that will last a lifetime. They will learn how to save seeds and start plants for the next season. We will have environmental, holiday and Harvest festivals for the community to showcase the garden and create dishes and share recipes. The youth will participate in these festivals and teach younger children what they’ve learned. The garden will be a gathering place for people who want to get close to the soil, learn and eat good food.
The Children’s Garden at Campos Benefits Neighbors of All Ages
The garden sits across from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing, called Campos Plaza. Like many low-income communities, many residents, including youth, have diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and suffer a lack of physical activity. The Children’s garden will address those issues specifically by teaching youth how to grow, cook and enjoy healthy food. It will serve the needs of the local community overall by providing a safe, green space that: 1) grows food; 2) teaches youth directly and by example about growing, cooking and eating healthy food; and 3) serves as an outdoor science lab and environmental classroom for students and teachers of neighboring schools, giving them “on the ground” lessons about the natural world and stewardship practices, reusing, recycling and reducing waste, water conservation, composting, among many other learning opportunities outside their school walls.
The success of the program will be measured in number of youth/class/community visits, the amount and types of vegetables grown, the number of meals cooked, the number of recipes and cooking classes taught, amount of compost created, water usage, etc.. We can survey participants and random community members on a variety of measures to gauge their knowledge, perception, usage, and get their input in improving the garden program.
The knowledge that youth will learn from the garden will spread into the larger community as they share their experiences–and their recipes–with their families, their friends and peers, and as they become agents for change and mentors for younger children in the community who look up to them.