Week 3 at Drumchapel High School – our first bench!

Today we were joined by Mr Healey—a tech teacher from Drumchapel—who was covering for an absent Ally. Our session began by chatting about the importance of preparation for any garden site. Next week, we hope to take delivery of the wooden bark for the herb garden and seating area. So, it’s vital that the ground is good and ready!

A dry day! Praise the Glasgow weather!

We spent a good chunk of time levelling and digging the site (which is really quite big now!). We then chatted about using a porous membrane on the exposed soil to prevent any weeds growing through the bark. Ian had brought this from a local garden supplier, and the students had some fun beginning to lay it out. However, it was too windy to get this done today, so we decided we’ll do it next week once the bark is delivered (and can weigh down the membrane).

It was far too windy to begin laying out the membrane!

In the second half of the session, Ian held a workshop for the students on how to build a bench. He started by laying out the wood—from the amazing people at Glasgow Wood Recycling—and challenged the students to think how they would create a bench with the 4 pieces of wood. After a few failed attempts, the puzzle clicked, and the students successfully pieced the bench together! It really was fantastic to see the students come together to build the first bench at the Drumchapel Eco-Garden!

Working together!
Thanks to Mr Healey for showing us some vital tips!
The first bench is build! Good and sturdy, too!

Oh, and the students were much more comfortable holding worms! Ian talked through how these wiggly creatures are nature’s unsung heroes! As ever, there were lots of laughs and good chat, and a real sense of community growing.

Worms are our friends!

Worms, Wellies, and Week 2 at Drumchapel High School

Stepping on site in my wellies, one week after beginning work at Drumchapel’s school garden I was amazed at the progress the group had made on preparing the groundwork for the garden. The group have been working incredibly hard and have clearly been putting their newly acquired digging skills to the test.

This week, in the sunshine, we discussed the shape of the garden and worked together to mark out the dimensions of the space. The group decided on a contrast of both straight and curved edges and marked these out carefully using pegs and string.

The hard work of digging continued throughout the session and during the process the group unearthed a number of worms – of very different sizes – that caught their attention. As the group held the worms in their hands, we talked about the vital importance of these creatures for improving and maintaining soil structure. The group noted the need for worms in their garden and carefully placed them back into the ground.

A real sense of community and ownership around the garden is beginning to form in the group and plans are being made by everyone involved. As the digging continues we are making plans for the next stage of building the garden – including the construction of benches and the laying of gravel – in the coming weeks. 

Week One of Building Drumchapel’s Eco-Garden

Since March, when lockdown in Glasgow began, we have been dreaming about restarting the garden work at Drumchapel High School and last week we were able to begin again! Working with a top team of S4 and S5 pupils, under the guidance of Ally Harris, we began collectively building and imagining the school garden and it is so exciting to finally get started.

Ian began the session by introducing the IGA and the importance of our Arizona partners to the project. We discussed our ideas for the site and the group suggested a range of things that they wanted to include, such as a time capsule buried in the soil. We shared our interests in gardens, particularly growing food, and the group noted that a key desire for a school garden was to support the local community, particularly those in most need. Then we began to dig! The group’s enthusiasm was electric and everyone joined in to prepare the ground for levelling. Pupils worked together digging with spades and using their hands to remove the top layer of grass from the first site. A number of creatures were revealed in the process, causing alarm, intrigue and laughter for many of the group.

This is the beginning of a long-term partnership between Drumchapel and the IGA. Our dream is to build a school garden that supports and sustains a hopeful ecological future for the school and the surrounding community. We can’t wait to continue building this garden together.

Mr Lamb with no shovel in hand!

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action Challenge

Over the past month Ian, Cathy and I have been working up our proposal for the Reimagining Museums for Climate Action competition run by the Glasgow Science Centre. Inspired by the competition’s ethos for radically rethinking the museum in relation to climate justice and green futures, we explored ideas around young people and climate action. Our proposal – “The Green Technician Collective” – centres on the empowerment of young people through the development of a living museum and we are excited about sharing our ideas with the judging panel. Designing a museum proposal was a new venture for us and it was a challenging experience to attempt to visualise our ideas. For inspiration we hit the outdoors and had a lot of fun discussing our proposal as we trudged up a hill together.

The proposal has been created with COP26 in mind and the potential these events have to
challenge and reframe worldly debates around climate change and sustainable futures. Working together on this proposal allowed us the opportunity to consider further the IGA’s mission in relation to global policy, such as Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. It has continued to strengthen our collective desire to promote human dignity through the development of just foodscapes and we are excited to hear more about the competition as it progresses.

Visit to Levenmouth Academy – Bats wood

This month the IGA team were lucky enough to pay a (socially distanced) visit to Levenmouth Academy to visit their incredible school garden and to meet the various people involved in putting together and sustaining this venture.

Excited to be at this amazing site!

Duncan Zuill, founder of Bat’s Wood, and Claire McLeod, Principal Teacher for Geography, introduced us to the project and showed us the various ways in which the garden is used by pupils. We were also joined by community activist Ken Haig and mental health worker Iricka King who kindly shared their experiences of working with various communities and the importance of the garden to developing and sustaining community cohesion in the area. 

Duncan gave us a tour

It was inspiring to visit the site and to hear about the development of Bats Wood. There was a great deal of commonality between our two projects, including the importance of activism and protecting the right to access land for all. We discussed at length issues of austerity and shared our common desire to see school garden sites as both a response to and reaction against these violent measures.

We very much hope to continue to share ideas with Bats Wood and to revisit the site in the future!

Celebrating our 2020 Green Technicians!

Last month we held a virtual ‘Garden Party’ to celebrate the achievements of our Green Technicians who graduated the programme in May. We were delighted to be joined by our collaborators in Arizona, who came on to tell us all about how their Community and School Garden Program works in the US and the personal interests that brought them to the work in the first place. The international element is really important to us, so getting the chance to hear about their experiences as well as share our own was really valuable. Growing in Arizona embodies a whole different set of possibilities and challenges to the ones we face here in Glasgow, but uniting people in both realms seems to be the desire to get their hands dirty and do something.

The party was also a chance for us to introduce them to our Green Technician Programme, which was so inspired by their work, and tell them what we had been up to here in Glasgow over the past few months.

Our first session back in more sociable times!

The Green Technicians chatted about why they got involved with the programme, and we were able to feed back some of the things we’d learned from them over the course of the past 4 months. Through interviews and growing diaries, we’ve been able to learn a lot about their thoughts on the programme, what they think school gardens can and should do, and the things that inspire them in the face of climate crisis. Their thoughtful contributions have been such a huge source of inspiration and positivity for us in thinking about how the programme will go forward, so this was really an opportunity for us to acknowledge this and thank them.

Our mission to build new worlds has always been caught up in the act of doing, and when the Green Technicians spoke about their work it was clear this was something they valued too. It is the opportunity to do something that so many young people crave, and it is in the spaces of doing that we might find the creative solutions to the big challenges we face. It was great to hear this reflected back from some of our more experienced colleagues in Arizona too, who were so encouraging and agreed with the Green Techs that the absolute best way to learn is to just give it a go! This is something everyone seems to love about the project, you don’t need to be an expert to get involved. Read, chat to people, ask questions but also… just build that compost and see what happens!

We thank our Green Technicians for all their work and wish them the very best going forward!

Growing in Lockdown

From propagating fresh herbs to dismantling discarded furniture, our green technicians have been finding ways around the limited supply of gardening resources in the current lockdown. In various parts of the UK, they’ve been busy growing all sorts, from Scottish staples such as potatoes, carrots, kale and beetroot to more exotic plants such as marjoram, Asian greens and chilli peppers.

It’s been amazing to see the variety of stuff our Green Technicians have been growing, especially in such different spaces. Everybody seems to be making the most of the space they’ve got, whether it’s an allotment or just a windowsill, they’re definitely proving that you don’t need lots of space to do some growing!

Worm Hunting, Soil Science, and The Coronavirus Lesson

I finished the elective by talking about our reliance on worms and soil bacteria. Without these visible and invisible heroes, our lives could not exist.

On Friday 13th of March we enjoyed one of our best ever days. Worms, sunshine, and breaking ground at Drumchapel High School. We were building new worlds–one potato at a time. But little did we know, days later the world began to shut down, and the progress we’d engineered for months was arrested by the global pandemic.

It’s pretty heartbreaking. We had real momentum on our side. We were 4 weeks into the eco-garden elective at Boclair Academy, and we were developing fantastic relationships with the 15 students we’d got to know. But more importantly, March is a key month for planting crops: from potatoes to the peas we’d started indoors. On top of this, we’d finally got permission to start building the school garden at Drumchapel High School, following the blueprint I’d spent a long time working on. Getting started at Drumchapel, along with Steven, remains a key priority of mine.

We asked students to break into teams to hunt worms and other underground creatures. Soil is an incredibly complex and densely packed ecosystem.

Friday’s entire lesson was planned around understanding the soil as a living, breathing, ecosystem – one populated by wriggling worms, squiggling nematodes, complex fungal networks, and billions of bacteria. Many of these symbiotic relationships are incredibly fragile and beautiful. The plant, I invited the students to consider, is not an independent organism. It is a worldly relationship.

A video showing the worm hunt!
Measuring out the space for a herb garden at Drumchapel.
Worm hunting!
The garden will still be there – ready for regrowth and rebirth.

But I suppose these “strange times” offer important lessons.

The coronavirus brings into stark relief our reliance on food networks. Society runs on its supermarkets. And that engenders a precarity we’ve all seen first-hand. Our school garden project is, and remains, a vital corrective to this overt dependence on big agriculture and commercial food. If we are to become more resilient, autonomous, and climatically sensitive communities, we have to learn how to grow in our backyards. How to grow new worlds.

Empowering students to feel confident with their earthly skills is crucial to our future. Caring for the land is caring for ourselves. And it is this lesson, amongst so much tragedy and ennui, that we must carry forward.

We will grow. And like the bean plant and its underground bacteria, we must grow together.

– Ian

I don’t know how to annotate this photo 🙂

Breaking ground at Drumchapel – literally!

Today, Cheryl and are broke ground at Drumchapel High School. We are creating two interrelated spaces – a herb garden and a food garden. The site is fantastically positioned with an amazing view behind. We are turning over the turf and getting ready to put bark down.

We also got our cool new IGA badges. I was really pleased with how the design came out.

New elective, new Green Tech meeting, and new t-shirts!!

Today was a busy day for Cheryl and I. We ran–along with Victoria–a brand new elective at Boclair Academy. I was inspired by the idea of approaching the garden as a multi-sensory space. So we had the pupils collect objects in the garden that stimulated each of their senses. It was fun–and the sun showed up for us!

We then headed to the University of Glasgow, where we ran our second Green Tech Meeting. The purpose of this meeting with Geographical and Earth Sciences students was to prepare them for working with enthusiastic–and sometimes difficult to manage–school pupils. I then gave an exciting (well I thought so) presentation on soil. The purpose was to understand the science behind soil as a teeming ecosystem – populated by worms, nemotodes, fungi, and bacteria. All of these organisms directly contribute to the health of a plant, such as the symbiotic relationships made by mycorrhiza and Rhizobium. Nature, we learn, is not made of discrete objects but a rich tapestry of relationships. And preserving these relationships is vital to the health of our planet.

After these two mini lectures, Cheryl ran a workshop on creating birdfeeders from plastic bottles, and I had my students get their hands dirty with soil and planting peas!

This caterpillar crashed the party. One slang term for this critter was apparently: Hairy Granny.

Finally, you’ll notice I was wearing our brand new t-shirt design!