The garden of Gish
Volunteers plant community food garden
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 02, 2013 06:00 am
Fresh fruit took root last weekend at a St. Albert school as volunteers transformed a troublesome hill into a flourishing food garden.
About 10 volunteers planted trees and shrubs on a small hill in front of Elmer S. Gish School Sunday despite rain and frigid temperatures. The trees were part of the school’s new Nature-Scape edible garden, which is meant to teach students about local food and the environment.
Parent Jill Cunningham said she got the idea for the garden a few years ago after seeing one at Edmonton’s Belgravia School, which features edible plants, a pond, seating areas and more. She had heard that Gish had planned to get rid of a small hill on its front yard due to safety concerns – students could slide down it into a nearby bus lane – and suggested the school turn the hill into a garden instead.
Last weekend was the first phase of the garden, Cunningham said – a “food forest” of apple, pear, and plum trees, all backed by saskatoon and honeyberry shrubs. Mixed in with them were birch, willow, and Ohio buckeye trees for use in the school’s Grade 6 unit on trees.
Volunteers also created a “lasagne garden” by piling compost and grass between layers of cardboard. Come spring, this should become fresh soil for seedlings, eliminating the need to replace the underlying sod with dirt. The school also plans to plant native flowers to attract bugs and birds, create a vegetable garden, and add benches for a seating area.
The school hopes to have everything done by next summer, said principal Erin Steele. The garden and its fruit will be free to use by city residents, he said; he hoped to recruit some locals to care for it over the summer.
Cunningham said the garden should help students learn about the environment and address that “nature deficit disorder” found in many kids. “I hope kids find that there’s really neat things to do outdoors. I hope they discover the magic of growing their own food and tasting it.”
The garden was funded in part by a $2,600 environmental initiatives grant from the City of St. Albert and about $1,000 in donated plants from the St. Albert Canadian Tire.