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5441 SE Belmont St
Portland, OR, 97215
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Confluence Environmental Center


AmeriCorps Week 2013: Spring is Coming to Springwater Environmental Sciences School

rob loucks

A guest blog from Kaci Rae Christopher, School Garden Coordinator at Springwater Environmental Science School

When I began my AmeriCorps term as Garden Coordinator for Springwater Environmental Sciences School, the rhetoric about the garden was so despairing, so “othering.” It was “that” space, described with a dismissive wave of one’s hand, a space filled with intense and prickly weeds, a place where the students were afraid to tread.

I spent my first few weeks eating lunch out in the garden, imagining what the space could look like come spring and summer. Slowly, students wandered in. They were nervous about the immense size of the weed forest, but driven in by their curiosity and the possibility of finding woolly-bear caterpillars. With the help of my hardy boots, we built trails through the weeds together, collecting a myriad of insects and wondering aloud what the garden could produce.

With the help of the students and staff at Springwater, we are working to make this experimental school garden one that produces a diverse yield, while also connecting the school and local community together in partnership and dirty hands. This is a garden of inspiration. Springwater students have been busy designing and building compost structures, worm bins, and rain gardens. In garden class, students have learned to take care of the soil by analyzing soil samples and learning how it is a living thing. They have taste tested raw parts of “plants we eat,” exploring roots, stems, and fruits as scientists.  And they have weeded, mulched, and reimagined the garden space during every class and recess. 

The work we’ve accomplished so far at building a lasting garden program in Springwater wouldn’t have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of the Confluence Environmental Center staff. By connecting the school with AmeriCorps, Confluence has offered this school the opportunity to begin developing a flexible but integrated garden curriculum that will grow in future years.

AmeriCorps has provided the chance for this garden space to actually connect students to garden science by supporting my position as Garden Coordinator. Students and staff who have seen the weeds take over the garden year after year, who have seen efforts to grow food fall through because of the lack of a garden program, no longer use the despairing rhetoric used six months ago. Now we use words like “diligence,” “yield,” and “experiment.” 

Spring is well on the way. This is a time to appreciate the efforts it has taken to come this far, to plan for the future months, and to look at the steps it will take to grow a thriving garden/school relationship. My goals are to get each student engaged in planting a part of the garden so that they can each connect and be in ownership of the space, individually and as a community.  I look forward to continuing our partnership with Food Waves, a local non-profit focused on garden education in schools, and with Friends of Family Farmers, Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply, and TLC Gardens.  I also look forward to our growing partnerships with nearby schools, Redland and Lent, and the opportunities they provide for student immersion and the exchange of ideas and learning through positive communal experiences in the garden.

Overall, I hope that this will become a communal space where students, staff, parents, partners, and volunteers explore together through positive experiences, hard work, and a fulfilling yield. I want students to return next fall to a space that is ripe for inspiration, gathering, eating, sharing, and learning.

Please enjoy this slideshow of the garden developments and activities at Springwater over the past few months.