Garden of Learning

By Ellen Orabone

This summer, the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) put down roots in East Austin with our move to a permanent facility, and this winter, we completed our teaching garden—an idea planted years ago with the hope that one day we’d be able to offer educational opportunities to gardeners of all levels in the community.

Officially open to the public in the spring of 2014, the JP’s Peace, Love and Happiness Teaching Garden (funded by a grant from JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation) is part of a larger community garden on our property, and will be a source of inspiration and education for anyone interested in gardening in the greater Austin area. We’ll use it to showcase sustainable gardening techniques, such as the use of diverse raised-bed materials, water conservation techniques and growing native plant species. And the garden will also highlight rotating exhibitions in themed garden beds—giving home gardeners new ideas for planting in our Central Texas climate.

In late November, the teaching garden hosted its first field trip: Sixty excited first-graders from the Magellan International School toured the garden and learned about the importance of preserving our natural resources through gardening. The students also participated in two activities—showing off their knowledge of plant parts through an edible art activity and planting herb seeds in newspaper “eco-pots” to take home and share with their families. Throughout the day, these precocious students demonstrated the real need for youngsters to participate in environmental education (“Is there a microwave out here?”), but their enthusiasm was inspiring. 

Of course, elementary school students are not the only ones who will grow in our garden. We’re excited to host a variety of more advanced community workshops offering specialized gardening lessons, such as seed-saving demonstrations, rain-garden installations and lessons in how to double-dig and maintain bio-intensive, in-ground garden beds. And as a part of a planned seed bank initiative (a collaboration between SFC and other local food justice organizations), the garden will act as a living seed bank—hosting a variety of plants adapted to the Austin climate. 

With so many opportunities to spread our roots in the community, the SFC teaching garden will surely grow even stronger and flourish in the months and years to come.

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