West Union Elementary School’s courtyard is getting a makeover!
This Hillsboro school will soon boast a permaculture-based garden containing several raised beds, improved pollinator habitat, and rainwater collection features. Thanks to dedicated parent volunteers, West Union Elementary students will plant and tend to annual crops while honing their ecological observation skills as their garden springs to life.
The parents who made it happen:
Amy Wachsmuth and Lakshmi Tata are both passionate about creating a garden program that will allow students to actively engage in maintaining soil health and restoring habitat while also learning how to grow their own food. With Wachsmuth’s knowledge of permaculture and Tata’s experience managing a small farm, the pair is well-equipped to build the garden, guide student gardeners, and provide opportunities for students to connect what they learn in the classroom with the natural areas around their school.
How the project was financed:
The Tualatin Watershed Improvement Grant (TWIG) is awarded to groups in Washington County to support small-scale projects that promote conservation within the Tualatin River watershed. Since the grant became available in January 2018, more than 10 schools have applied for and received funding to install or improve their school gardens.
What makes this a permaculture garden?
While dreaming up the school garden program, Wachsmuth completed a permaculture design certificate course. Through this course, she learned ways to integrate methods for reducing waste and imitating nature into the garden design. She assessed the site’s soil composition, sun exposure, traffic patterns, microclimates, and rainwater flow. One outcome of these assessments was the installation of a rain garden with strategically placed, deep-rooted plants and a small berm to address an area that experiences regular pooling.
As the garden begins to grow, the volunteers will implement sustainable maintenance practices:
- Creating their own compost from onsite materials
- Using fallen leaves to replenish organic matter in the soil
- Saving seeds to propagate new plants from year to year
How does the garden program work?
- Eight annual production beds form a circle around a demonstration bed that provides space for teachers and parent volunteers to create experimental and example plantings.
- Each grade is assigned a raised bed; as the students advance through the grades, they will rotate their way through the circle of beds, experiencing a different microclimate each year. The students will observe how changes in sun exposure affect what they are able to grow in each bed.
- Each class will work together to decide what to plant. Students will be responsible for all planting and they will assign specific jobs, including watering, photography, and recording. These assignments aim to help students develop a sense of ownership of their work in the garden, deepening their connection and investment.
Even before the garden beds were installed, students were hard at work preparing.
In the fall, they propagated herbs and strawberries, which are now planted. They also did all of their own seed sowing and are now in the process of transplanting seedlings into their beds. Wachsmuth notes that students are involved in the project at every point possible. “With every new task that needs to be done, we try to think, ‘How can I adapt it so a kid can do this?’”