As a parent, the spectre of climate change weighs heavily on my heart. Our children face an unimaginably difficult future, where life will be filled with challenges such as increasing food insecurity as food prices soar due to shortages caused by extreme weather events and drought.
The Future Garden Project is a project which aims to help the children of our community to prepare to face this challenge. Children need to be empowered to be able to grow their own food, using natural techniques which not only ensure good crop yields using all Nature provides us with, but also to reconnect with nature in a meaningful way. Our youth are living in an increasingly disconnected society, and their busy lives take them further and further from nature, which has so much to teach them, and so many healing benefits which they can embrace.
The concept of the Future Garden is simple. Using existing garden space, with established plants in place, an all-natural food forest is planned, utilising found objects and materials from the school grounds. The project starts with learning about soil, and how to create a healthy growing medium to create soil which is alive with living organisms and filled with nutrition. To this end, dead plant matter is collected from the school grounds to begin the construction of Hugelkultuur, or “mounded beds”. These are a Permaculture growing method which incorporate layers of organic matter such as rotting deadfall, grass cuttings, vegetable waste and cardboard with existing soil, to create mounded beds. This attracts soil-based insects which assist in breaking down the layered organic matter, enriching the soil as the material breaks down. Once the beds are laid down, using the contours of the space, water channels are prepared using plastic sheeting and gravel, which direct rainfall to the beds. Mini-swathes are built, which create water-holding pools across the contours of the bed, holding water for longer, to be utilised by the plants. Children are encouraged to see how the slope and contours of the space will allow water to be drawn to where it is needed, and the beds are created accordingly. No digging is required in this method. The preparation of the garden is time consuming, but teaches the children the importance of working with, and harnessing all that nature provides, without the need for artificial interventions.
The design of the Future Garden teaches the children the value of spending time on correct preparation, and patience, a valuable commodity when working with nature. Once the beds and planting spaces are in place, the children are taught how to create their own compost to feed the garden as it develops and grows. They are each given an ice cream container to collect their vegetable and fruit waste from home. This is layered with grass cuttings, collected, crushed egg shells and shredded cardboard, all gathered from the children and the school grounds. They are taught the importance of removing green waste from landfills, as this is a major contributor of methane to the environment, a potent Greenhouse gas. Various permaculture systems are utilised in the planting layout. Plants which attract pollinators are included in the design, as well as companion plants which deter crop eating insects and stimulate vigorous growth. The garden strives to imitate nature in every way, to allow a healthy ecosystem to develop. Raised beds, Hugelkultuur beds, and shade planting are employed, as well as using plants to create wind breaks and barriers.
The ultimate goal is to use the PAHS Future Garden as a teaching garden for schools throughout Ndlambe. Pupils from surrounding schools will be invited to learn how to create their own Future Gardens at their schools, and ultimately throughout the community. In this way, we can ensure that food security is not one of the results of climate change which will challenge our children and our community.
~ Jo Styles Worthington-Smith