by Andrea Knowles
Students at Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, MA, transformed the entrance to the school’s restaurant, The Elegant Chef, from a compacted dusty lawn area to a productive beautiful Herb Garden in a matter of a few after-school meetings and work days. The design process began during the first few months of the school year with the Horticulture Club and the Culinary Shop students agreeing to work together to create an Herb Garden for the school that the Culinary students could use throughout the school year as a source of fresh herbs and vegetables for cooking and cut flowers for the tables and garnishes.
With the help of the Horticulture Club advisers Andrea Knowles and Carley Engle, the students began by designing the garden in the late fall of 2013, designating planting areas and walkways, making list of plants and structures. The students had to make many decisions about the construction materials: drip irrigation, gravel for the pathways to allow for easy installation, stone wall surrounding the garden, and finely chipped mulch for the finishing touch.
Planning for Spring Planting
The students created a list of the herbs, vegetables, perennials, and annuals. They wanted an ornamental Cherry tree in the smaller garden to the left of the entryway for spring color. The students were so excited that they planted a few daffodils, crocus, and tulips to see pop up in the spring when outdoor work would begin.
As soon as the ground could be worked the crew of 10 students began digging out the topsoil to create the walkways and laid down landscape fabric and the crushed stone. Lime, fertilizer, and three yards of compost were worked into the garden’s soil. The students were amazed how rich in color the garden looked just by incorporating the compost into the dry soil.
Once the plants were delivered, the students were willing to stay after school to complete the planting process. The excitement of the students was palpable. The garden was completed in May 2014, just in time for Graduation on June 7th.
Throughout the summer, students volunteered to meet to continue to weed, water, and harvest the tomatoes, parsley, basil and zinnias until school was back in session in September.
Because of this small project, the school administrators began to reconsider the use of the school property and the students’ role. An expanded School Garden is now being planned on the other side of the greenhouse, primarily for the Culinary Shop to use on a daily basis. The patrons of the school’s restaurant are able to visit the Herb Garden and observe students busily harvesting, weeding, and tending the plants.
The educational value of garden to table has provided students with the ability to see where their food comes from – how it is grown and harvested before it ever gets to the kitchen for preparation. Field trips to farms are now being planned to encourage students to consider local sources for produce and other plant and animal products. Job opportunities have increased as the school reaches out to the community, and students are acquiring more skills that will be necessary and valuable in the community and in a society that is concerned about the quality of its food and where it is grown.
Students are thrilled to cut the herbs and gather the vegetables. They look forward to the field trips and the outdoor work in their small gardens. Isn’t that the way education should be? Inspiring students to learn and enjoy the process of acquiring knowledge and new skills. The small Herb Garden has sparked new interest for the students, teachers, administrators, and patrons that visit the school. A community has been built around our school Herb Garden.
About the Author
Andrea Knowles teaches biology and is science department chairperson at Nahoba Valley Technical High School. She also advises the Horticulture Club. Andrea is a founding member and past president of ELA.