A recent survey found there were more than 360 community and school gardens across the state. With that many Georgians gardening, there are bound to be questions about picking the right crops, identifying insects and improving garden soil.
To that end, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is expanding its already existing community and school garden outreach efforts. Becky Griffin, who has a long history of working with urban agriculture in metro Atlanta, was recently appointed UGA Extension community and school garden coordinator. She will lead a committee of Extension professionals enthusiastic about these types of gardens.
“Over the years, we’ve developed many resources for gardeners and groups working to develop community and school gardens, but there was no coordinated effort,” said Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean for Extension with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Becky’s new role will be to help us coordinate our efforts and speak with one voice on this subject to ultimately have greater impact and be of larger service. This will keep us from re-inventing the wheel at each new garden site and improve our public outreach as new challenges and opportunities come to light.”
The new community and school garden committee kicked off efforts by putting on this summer’s school garden teacher trainings.
Griffin worked with UGA horticulture professor and school garden advocate David Knauft to organize trainings for north Georgia teachers to help them maximize the use of their school gardens in the classroom.
The workshops were designed for beginning gardeners and focused on building healthy soil, pest management and garden planning. The trainings also provided advice for developing lesson plans that use school gardens to teach Georgia Performance Standards.
“I have a garden at my school, but I want to be able to integrate it more into my lesson plans,” said Karrie Churchwell, a sixth-grade teacher at Duluth Adventist Christian School, who was one of about 100 teachers attending the school garden trainings this summer. “This was really helpful in terms of learning what to grow, so you can maximize the use of the garden during the school year.”
More teacher trainings are planned for summer 2016 as well as more advanced trainings for teachers who are already comfortable in their gardens, Griffin said.
In addition to helping teachers make the most their school gardens, UGA Extension and Georgia 4-H are teaming up to use school gardens to help students learn about life sciences, agriculture and the importance of service.
Georgia 4-H programs in several schools will be presenting programs centered on school vegetable gardens. Fifth-grade students will learn pest identification skills, explore food preservation methods and discover how to properly read a seed packet. These students will not only learn about the living world, but they will also become valuable assets to their school gardens.
Griffin’s community and school garden committee will work closely with UGA Extension agents to help them meet the needs of school and community organizers across the state. Currently, Griffin is working with stakeholders to develop a directory of resources.
“One of our next projects is to assess the resources that are already in place throughout the state to help community and school gardeners,” said Griffin. “We will promote those resources and create materials that we find are lacking.”
Future projects include the encouragement and promotion of pollinator gardens or plots. The statewide pollinator protection plan, “Protecting Georgia’s Pollinators,” by a team of Georgia agricultural experts from UGA and the state Department of Agriculture, was released earlier this year. As a result, pollinator gardens are being looked at as a great asset.
The committee also plans on expanding the use of technology to broadcast relevant information. The UGA Extension community gardening blog at blog.extension.uga.edu/communitygardening informs the public on garden issues as well as upcoming classes and events. The UGA school garden resource site at extension.uga.edu/k12/school-gardens/ provides teachers with information on basic gardening and lesson plans for Georgia classrooms. There are plans to expand these resources and to add similar programs.
(Becky Griffin is an educational program specialist with the University of Georgia Extension in Cobb County.)
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)