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!

28 Feb, 2020: An Elective on Peas!

Today we led a wonderful class on the mighty pea! We talked about its nutritional value, how to grow this taken-for-granted bean, and even had a workshop on designing our own plant pots! Lots of fun, and lets see how each of the students’ peas grow! We planted sugar snaps – my fave!

The Eco-Garden elective students begin designing their own plant pot for their own peas.
I try and convince the Boclair pupils that peas are amazing! Had to dig around for some gardening jokes.
Miss Duncan is proud of her effort! But will it grow?

Garden elective begins!

Catherine and Victoria oversee the cool new garden guides!

Another cold and wet Friday in Glasgow saw the gardening elective get underway at Boclair Academy. As an introductory session, it was an opportunity for the young people to meet Cheryl, Ian and Catherine, hear about the International Green Academy and check out their new garden guides! They also learned a bit about eco-anxiety and filled in the questionnaire we piloted last week.

Despite some concerns about having to deal with worms and dirt, lots of the young people said that learning to grow food was their main goal for the elective. They won’t have to wait long to get growing, as next week we’ll be starting off our peas indoors!

Feb 18th, 2019 – Partner meeting at Boclair

Today, Cheryl and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet all of the external partners who work with learners at Boclair Academy. It was so very inspiring – hearing how much care is poured into the school from organizations tackling mental health and wellbeing, domestic abuse, as well as partners offering vocational training and charity work (shout out to Anne from Alzheimer’s Scotland), and even staff from four primary schools (hello to Elspeth from Killermont). The school community is fabulous, and really made Cheryl and I appreciate the work that is done in these spaces.

No visit would be complete, of course, without saying hello to our favourite geography teachers, Victoria, Julie, and Ruth. Excited to start the elective with you guys on Friday!

Green Technician programme begins! – reflections from Catherine

On a very wet and cold Friday afternoon we held the first Green Technicians training session at Glasgow university. This was our first chance to meet as a group, introduce ourselves to the Technicians and outline the background of the overall project.

The first half of the session was organised as a presentation. Ian explained how the Technicians involvement links into the International Green Academy and spoke of our partners in Arizona, and then Cheryl outlined the project so far and what the Technicians will be getting up to over the next few months.

During a break for lunch, Catherine piloted the questionnaire that will be given out this week to the school pupils doing the gardening elective at Boclair. The students were very responsive and open to chat about the issues raised in the questionnaire, as well as potential ways the questionnaire itself could be improved.

The second half of the session gave the students more of a chance to discuss their ideas and knowledge around school gardens. The group split in two to discuss these questions:

  • What is a garden?
  • What can a garden do?

All the participants got involved straight away and contributed really brilliant thoughts and ideas. Encouragingly, they had a lot of suggestions for ways that school gardens can help young people to think practically about how they can be more ecologically responsible.

In both groups, participants discussed the benefit of gardens as non-hierarchical spaces and how this can allow for more dynamic and egalitarian forms of learning and exchange. 

The students also seemed to feel very positively about how the school garden can connect to its wider community through the accessibility of cheap, healthy food. The capacity to grow vegetables was discussed in relation to its ability to tackle health and social inequalities. Good quality, healthy food was seen as unaffordable, and the group discussed the knock-on effects of this relating to mental and physical health. Therefore, gardens were discussed as radical sites of transformation as they give communities the opportunity to become self-sufficient rather than reliant on a hostile economic system.

The fact that everybody needs to eat was framed as a positive way to rally people round a cause, rather than a problem to be solved. It was suggested that by giving kids the skills to grow food, they could go and empower their local communities by passing on this knowledge. All of this made us so excited to see out the rest of the project with such an enthusiastic and compassionate group of young people.

14 Feb, 2020: Kicking off the Green Technician Program!

Setting up this shot was surprisingly tricky!

Today we launched the Green Technician Program! We were delighted to be accompanied by amazing students from Geographical and Earth Sciences. The excitement was palpable, and we can’t wait to harness that energy to make a difference in Glasgow schools. The purpose of our first meeting was to orient the students about the wider aims of the International Green Academy, and prepare them for their journey to help transform outdoor learning. We ran a couple of brainstorming sessions–including asking them to think about both “what is a school garden”, but more importantly, “what can a school garden do?” We finished by coming up with a logo for our forthcoming uniforms!

How can we build progressive urban ecologies?
Agnes leads the charge.
Catherine takes notes!
A brief clip of one of the many discussions.
The logo workshop begins….currently it looks like a globe with trees and buildings on it!
Gardens can create a sense of ownership, food autonomy, and enable playfulness and imagination
School gardens are non-hierarchical – build circles instead of dividing lines between learners and educators.

Rebuilding – 7th Feb, 2020

Our first visit back to the garden at Boclair last week was one of restoration. The wet and windy Scottish winter had taken some toll on the site, especially the shed, and work was required to repair cracks and holes that appeared in windows and doors. In preparation for the next Garden Elective beginning in a few weeks, we organised the
shed creating hooks, spaces and shelves for tools and equipment. The site itself required some reassembling with planters being found, rubbish cleared and benches put back into place.

The shed is repaired and alive again!

Yet it was not just the garden itself that went through a process of rebuilding. We–as a team–reconnected on site, sharing our joy of working experientially and collaboratively.

Cheryl and Catherine get digging!

The next few months will be a busy time for the project and our time spent reconnecting with the garden in a restorative fashion gave us an important opportunity to reflect, take stock and feel excited about all the things that are coming next.

Who knew a shed could make Cheryl so happy?
The whisky barrels are such a neat addition to the garden
No missing hammer!