When volunteers arrived at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, they gathered around a barren 4,000 square foot patch of land bordered by a wooden fence. By early afternoon the students, parents and teachers of Stoddert Elementary completely transformed the space, building the school's first educational garden.
"This is so exciting for us," said Sarah Bernadi, a board member of DC Greens, the nonprofit that funded the project and provided much of its logistical support. "After a year of planning, it's amazing to see it finally coming together."
DC Greens first approached the school with the idea over a year ago.
"We met with the principal and told her we were interested in spearheading an educational garden project," explained Lauren Shweder Biel, founder and Executive Director of DC Greens. "She was extremely supportive and put us into contact with the PTA...because the school was under construction, we were able to request a space to be left for the garden."
With additional funding and support from Whole Foods, tools donated by ACE Hardware and a small grant from the Home Depot, the idea became a reality.
While the work of countless faculty, parents and students provided necessary community support, the experience and expertise of Bernadi and Biel greatly contributed to the project's success.
As a coordinator of the Bancroft School's gardening program, Bernadi worked with students as they helped first lady Michelle Obama plant the White Houses' organic garden. Biel founded DC Greens, serves as an advisor to the DC Farm to School Network and is an experienced organizer and educator.
"We really wanted to look at ways to make this sustainable in the long term," reflected Biel. "We tried to use best practices of other successful gardens and have a mix of inside and outside support...we flew out to the Edible Schoolyard in San Francisco to see how they ran their garden...we surveyed teachers, asking them how they might use the garden in their curriculums and incorporated this into our design...an architecture firm helped the kids to design and build a greenhouse out of plastic bottles...its been a huge collaborative effort."
Saturday's volunteers worked hard to dig beds and prepare the garden, stopping only briefly to enjoy a barbecue lunch provided by Whole Foods. In the coming weeks the recycled greenhouse will be moved into the garden and artist Patrick Dougherty will install an entryway he designed for the space.