School Gardens Network
by Anne E. O’Malley
Colleen Carroll has a vision. The director of the Kaua`i School Garden Network, organized under the auspices of the nonprofit organization Malama Kaua`i, can see herself in it.
It goes like this.
“When I walk or drive by our Kauai schools, I want to see a campus that is so inviting I want to be in there. There’s maybe a gazebo to hold outdoor classes; benches, shade, food and flowers. It’s the center of campus — for life sciences, meditation, math and art. A gathering place that offers food for the eyes as well as lunch.”
That would be awesome, she says and thinks it’s doable within five years. Carroll, for whom school gardens have long been a way of life, sees it developing so that there are model gardens serving as hubs for teaching and learning.
It’s what the networking thing is about, she says — “Building the school garden into the fabric of the community, with churches, clubs, scouts and more involved.”
Carroll helped define and build The Kaua`i School Garden Network, now over 100 people strong since she started working for Malama Kaua`i early in 2012. She checked out the true meaning of the word “network.”
“It’s really an interconnected group of people working toward a similar vision with shared resources,” she says, and in three years, every teacher will know what this network is, and you can go to any school and find a thriving school garden on campus, whether it’s in a container, in the ground — whatever their interest is.”
The network meets bi-monthly. Topics come from teachers’ suggestions, and may range from basic gardening skills to cooking from the garden, literature in the garden, integrating science in the garden — the list is endless.
By the end of 2012, there will be a Kaua`i School Garden Network Website with profiles of each school garden.
October will be an important month for the network as it is National Farm to School month, with a focus on getting more local fresh food into the schools and numerous activities, ranging from distributing `Ulu trees from the Breadfruit Institute to learning how to integrate healthy local snacks at our schools.
Something to remember, says the gardener who planted her first seed, a sunflower, at the age of three, is that gardens may have varying themes, e.g., canoe gardens highlight the plants ancient Polynesians brought with them in their voyages of migration; or native plant gardens display what was here when those Polynesians arrived.
These days there’s a strong focus on growing your own food, and, says Carroll, experience shows that if kids grow the bok choy, the kale or the beans, they also want to eat it, enhancing the lessons of gardening.
“A lot of schools are revamping or revving up,” says Carroll. “I’m doing a lot of onsite visits, leaning how I can support teachers to help them bring their gardens to the next level.”
Carroll has learned enough about school gardens to fill a book — and in fact, she has. It’s a classic in its universality.
While working as the Chair of the Education Department at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, she completed her Master of Science degree, visiting school gardens around the state. Her thesis became the book Growing an Educational Garden at Your School available at amazon.com/Growing-educational-garden-your-school/dp/0915809176.
This book still has value today, says Carroll. “That’s one of the greatest things about. The stories, while written in the ‘90s, are still the same issues schools face starting a new garden.”
In 2002, she earned a Doctorate in Environmental Education in Australia and returned to Kaua`i to form her own company called NatureTalks, bringing people and nature together.
“I’ve always wanted to connect with the beauty and importance of our environment and outdoors,” says Carroll, who’s had that opportunity in many of her pursuits and in the process, continues to learn and share more about connecting people with nature.
“I feel that I’m in the right place, exactly where I’m supposed to be, and doing what I’m supposed to do. My experiences have led me here and give me the strength to help build a stronger school gardens program.”
For information, call 808-828-0685; email 13 www.MalamaKauai.org firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit online at http://www.malamakauai.org/aboutSchoolGardens.php