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Author Archive: "Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Pringle"


I had a blessed childhood, as many of us who were born in the '50s or '60s did. Not because it was a privileged childhood, but because it was a largely unexamined childhood. There were some expectations; we had to get to school on time, keep our grades decent, stay on top of our chores, and be home for dinner. But how we did that was pretty much our business. I grew up in a large city, so getting around on the bus was something that we all learned early on. Our neighborhood parks, empty lots and natural areas were open and thrillingly wild and we knew them well. We knew where to hide; we knew which tree forts to take over once the established owners grew up and went off to college. We spent whole days roaming the old musty aquarium, knew all the paths of the Japanese tea garden, and knew to avoid the hobo encampment in the park. We mostly stayed out of trouble, and were home in time for dinner.

Raising my own kids, I felt pretty strongly about allowing them these same freedoms. The scenarios of early Saturday morning soccer games and weekends spent in East Jesus on "select" sports teams didn't square. I value the strength and discipline that sports impart, but spending weekends on a rectangle of green turf wasn't enough. I want them to walk to school, take the bus around town, know their community. I want them to find the secret spots where nature pushes through the asphalt, where creatures find shelter and where seeds float on the wind and take root in random spots like downspouts and roofs. You just can't do that with Mom in tow.

The Best Part of School Gardening

From Rachel Pringle, co-author of How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers

It didn't matter what day it was, each time my students came to the garden they would immediately ask, "Are we going to cook?!" Sometimes there was a reason; they'd see the large bowls ready to receive the harvest sitting patiently on the center table. But other times it was just a quick question, asked in the hope that perhaps the suggestion would make it a reality. There was never any doubt: cooking and eating were the best parts of garden class.

Each fall, without fail, students planted fava beans, lettuce, kale, broccoli, and chard. These were our staple crops which easily grow in San Francisco's mild winter climate. We'd watch them grow while we weeded, patrolled for pests, mulched, and watered. Students would remind me, when the chard leaves were large enough for them to hide behind, that it was time (come on already!) to pick and eat.

Never Finish

From Rachel Pringle

My co-author, Arden, and I make up the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, a decidedly small organization that serves as a regional support network for over 70 school gardens and green schoolyards in the City. We connect garden projects around the district to resources such as grants and relevant trainings, and to each other; through listservs, workshops, social events, and a conference, we help school communities share in a collective knowledge that brings them closer to their vision of a greener schoolyard . We also do a lot of troubleshooting with school communities that are struggling to keep their garden projects and programs alive and thriving. A garden is often started by a small group of enthusiastic parents in one big blast of energy. A Saturday workday is called and a garden is carved out of the schoolyard and the project is finished. Done.

The excitement that surrounds a groundbreaking and the initial building of a garden outdoor classroom is contagious. The community comes together around organizing, budgeting, gathering supplies, and putting hammer to nail. Eventually, though, those initial enthusiastic parents move on and the space loses its shine. In our book we mention one of the "tricks of the trade" for easing the pains of this natural flux in interest: never finish.

Do More with Less

From Rachel Pringle

The tiny seed of our book How to Grow a School Garden germinated in the rich soil created by the wave of interest in gardening and DIY fabulousness that is permeating much of our current culture. The weight of this economic anvil is pressing many of us to figure out ways to do more with less ; make your own pickles, jams, sausage, pillow cases, and dresses. Build your own bicycle, and reuse every jar and plastic bag. Grow your own food! It's amazing to discover out of what we can make a living and what miracles can happen in our own backyards. Here in San Francisco, green-thumbed entrepreneurs have emerged who help urban residents transform their postage stamp-sized backyards into "farms." Community gardens are growing from retired freeway off-ramps. More and more communities are interested in investing sweat equity in their neighborhood schools; school gardens are hot!

And all of this has happened before.

Lessons Learned

From Arden Bucklin-Sporer

Rachel and I spent about a year writing this book, after a combined 14 years of teaching in gardens and working with public schools. It was surprisingly easy to write, as it consists of experiences and lessons learned. It just bubbled forth. There were all sorts of unanticipated pleasures while writing the book, namely the great collaboration that grew from it, and the way working with someone with a different skill set can make the sum greater than its parts. Rachel is youngish, I am oldish; she is detail oriented, me... not so much. Rachel loves to research, I prefer to... well... sleep. We goaded and prodded each other, spend the first nine months doing a good bit of procrastinating, but three months before the due date, we lurched into full gear and... voila. We hope you like it.

Those last three months were long and exhausting, and as the deadline loomed, my husband warned the kids, "Whatever you do, don't make eye contact with your mother during the month of August."

Here are some lessons learned:

1. When you are taking pictures of kids in the garden, make sure no faces are involved. That way you don't have to get permission forms signed by their parents. Because we work with so many school gardens, we had to go into little hidey-holes to get permissions signed.

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