Inside the Fence at Charlottesville High School

Posted by on Jul 18, 2018 | Comments Off on Inside the Fence at Charlottesville High School

Inside the Fence at Charlottesville High School

The 2017-2018 school year brought in so many amazing changes to the garden at Charlottesville High School!  We started the school year researching how to move our program from a big garden to a small farm approach.  When we began, we didn’t quite realize just how much infrastructure work we were in for!  Amazingly enough, though, by the end of the school year, we looked around and realized that the students had done all the work and had done an admirable job of which they were all proud!  Here’s a look back at all that was accomplished.

Inside the fence

The biggest shift we had to make was to completely change the layout of every single garden bed inside of the fence from standard 4’x8’ garden beds into 30” wide rows.  The students took on all the measuring and laying out of the beds in order to maximize our space.  They were able to figure out ways to gain four 50’ long rows and four 35’ rows while preserving 3 of the standard 4’x8’ beds for other classes to use for experimental growing projects.

This changeup required a lot of digging!  Students learned to use new tools like broadforks and large landscape rakes.  I was so impressed by the students as this project took a sustained effort by my Urban Farming classes, our after school Garden Crew, and a few PE classes.  It’s amazing how much digging can happen in 40 minutes when you have 25 teenagers working together with the right tools!

Students also learned market gardening techniques to reduce weed pressure, extend the growing season, and speed up daily tasks.  We began utilizing heavy duty weed fabric and even installed our very own 50’ caterpillar tunnel over our four long rows to give us year-round growing possibilities.  Watching the look of accomplishment on the students’ faces as they stretched the cover over the frame of the 7’ tall caterpillar tunnel over their heads was one of the highlights of the year for me.

Outside the Fence

When we began this gardening adventure at CHS several years ago, the back field where the garden is located was largely unused other than as a gathering point for fire drills.  This year, the back field has become a central gathering point of the school community.  This is largely due to the outdoor classroom we set up.  We rearranged the tables and benches built by the APO service fraternity at UVA last year in a new spot and classes took full advantage of them throughout the entire year.  It was so encouraging to see teachers comfortable enough to bring art classes outside to paint, English classes outside to recite poetry, and ESL classes outside to share a meal together just to name a few examples.  Getting students outside in fresh air surrounded by nature is incredibly important and I love being able to help provide a gathering spot for that to happen.  The garden area has also become a popular spot for teacher lunches and even hosted a few cookouts!

The final biggest change this year created the most excitement.  We added chickens to the garden this year!  In February, we brought in 10 day-old chicks (a mix of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Red Stars) and the students learned how to care for them.  For the first few weeks, my classroom was overrun with literally hundreds of students coming to see the chicks.  I think it is safe to say that the chickens got used to being held!

Before the chicks arrived, students began researching chicken care including coops and predators.  They took that information and helped design our coop and then spent a few weeks building the moveable coop and protected run from scratch and let me tell you that this coop is awesome!  The chickens are happy and have an automated door that lets them out in the morning and keeps them safe at night.  It also moves around the field quite easily and will allow the chickens to have access to fresh grass and bugs on a daily basis.  They even started laying their first eggs recently so we will soon start having about 10 fresh eggs every day!

Moving Forward

Now that all of the infrastructure work is complete, we cannot wait to use this school year to produce a ton of fresh food!  We are working on a closer collaboration with the culinary arts classes at CHS to incorporate more of our produce into their cooking.  We also plan to continue sending home a lot of the produce home with students and will be brainstorming some other great ways to use what we grow to help provide more families in our community access to fresh and healthy food.

The last school year was a fantastic experience, and I am confident that the 2018-2019 school year will be our best ever!