Students behind school’s garden market success
It’s not easy running a fruit-and-vegetable stall.
You either have 60 bags of fresh salad that no one turns up to buy, or you have the only carrots in town and you’re overrun with customers.
That has been the experience of the students behind Warwick Academy’s garden market, held on Monday afternoons during the school year.
“Right now it is mainly Warwick Academy parents who buy the produce, but I am hoping that by the autumn the word will have caught on more in the community,” said Rosalind Wingate, the programme co-ordinator.
Students from Primary 6 on up grow beans, carrots, peas, tomatoes and lettuce and other vegetables in a 45ft-by-45ft garden on the Middle Road, Warwick campus.
Ms Wingate, who is also the school’s science technician, started the garden in 2018 as part of a natural history club she formed that mostly involved botanical drawings and looking at interesting bugs.
“[The garden] was very barren and very bleak,” she said. “It had hard-packed clay soil and was not good for anything. I think they had a couple of picnic benches.”
Her goal was to provide an activity for students who loved nature and the outdoors. Eventually the garden took shape.
It became difficult to run during the Covid-19 pandemic but in January 2022, after social restrictions had eased, Ms Wingate changed the gardening methods and added the market.
Thirty students help out in the garden as part of a club run twice a week during school hours. Six students are part of an elite team that gardens after school to ensure it isn’t neglected should people drop out or miss sessions because of exams or other activities.
“You need continuity,” Ms Wingate said.
Students have to apply to be part of the elite team and are required to come in for three hours on Sundays to help to harvest, wash, trim and bag produce. They also help to sell what they grow.
“I try to act as a facilitator of their ideas,” Ms Wingate said. “I try to get them the materials they need or provide the infrastructure they require, but they do the work.”
Most of the children in the elite team have been in the gardening programme for some time and show an enthusiasm for it.
Jessica Oppenheim, 16, joined Warwick Academy a year ago after her father, Tom Oppenheim, was appointed as Bermuda’s Deputy Governor.
She had considered engineering as a possible career option. The garden has changed her mind.
“I might do something in agriculture or conservation,” she said. “I have always felt I have a connection with agriculture. This is such a unique opportunity to find out what it would be like to run a farm or advise people on farming.”
Aidan Tailor, 10, is fascinated by the organic philosophy behind the garden. The compost comes from organic materials such as grass cuttings or leftovers from the landscapers’ work.
“There are no chemical pesticides used,” he said. “We try to reuse everything. If we can’t use parts of the lettuce, it goes back in the compost.”
They have been working under the mentorship of several local farmers including Greg Wilson, of Food Forest in Southampton.
To create a garden bed, he taught the group to lay a piece of cardboard over the grass. Students poured soil on top of the cardboard and started planting. Over time the cardboard broke down, and so did the grass underneath. Turning the soil over less means fewer seeds from weeds are germinated.
When you give a garden what it needs, there tend to be fewer problems with bugs and pests, Ms Wingate explained. They could use organic pesticides, but have not needed to.
“When we do have a problem, we just pick the bugs off,” she said.
Olivia Brown, 10, loves watching the cycle of life unfold.
“It is fun planting and watching what we planted grow from a seed to where we can harvest it,” she said. “It becomes challenging when we have to figure out different ways to improve the garden.”
Samiyah Simons, 12, is enjoying learning how to sustain plants and how to compost.
“I can replicate that at home. I love how hands on it is,” she said. “When we left for spring break, peas were growing, and now we get to eat them off the bush. And we get a good profit from them as well.”
The group has also experimented with pickling and fermenting and has made kale chips, pumpkin fritters and other dishes in the school kitchen.
“I liked it when we made strawberry banana ice cream with our own bananas and strawberries,” Olivia said. “We used vegan oat milk.”
Ms Wingate said her family had a garden when she was growing up, but she never really thought much about doing it herself until she got older. She has learnt a lot alongside her students.
The garden market has raised $2,000 and is run as a shared enterprise. Students involved get gift cards at the end of the school year; a portion of the money is put back into the garden.
Ms Wingate would love to partner with other schools with gardens.
• The Warwick Academy Garden Market is open to the general public on Mondays from 4pm to 5.30pm in the parking lot on Morgan’s Road.
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