FoodCorps Friday- From Bleak Courtyard to Thriving Outdoor Learning Space
By Athens Land Trust service member, Bexx Merck
One of my biggest motives in returning for another year of FoodCorps was to finish the large projects I started in partnership with teachers at Coile middle School. One in particular captured my interest: an outdoor classroom. The Family and Consumer Science teacher had an idea to transform the empty and underused courtyard space adjacent to her classroom into a vibrant area where students can grow ingredients for their FCS class cooking projects, use the two grills outside rain or shine, and have an invigorating and grounding gathering space to learn sans-ceiling, ideally in the sunshine.
We had quite a few parameters to consider in creating a functional outdoor space. The courtyard has some puddle problems and poor infiltration as the ground is mostly clay and covered in a dense grass and the courtyard is wrapped by brick walls that cut down on sun availability for better growing. Take a peek at our design vision:
You’ll notice mobile gardens toward the end of the bed, that students will tend to and move into patches of sunshine during their class period, as well as perennial and native fern gardens in low-light corners. Most of the courtyard will be sheet mulched to reduce watering needs of grass, which means less water consumption and lower cost, and increased absorption from the mulch in the low spots of the courtyard floor.
The planning stages for this project kicked off last school year, but really took off this November. To get started, we collected materials from local partners, including UGA’s Materials Reuse Program and Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful. We have really benefitted from the support of programs and partners like these here in Athens.
In our first week of breaking ground, we focused entirely on hardscaping. About 40 students expertly de-taped cardboard, laid it overlapping across the courtyard grass, unloaded and spread mulch, pruned suckers off of the center trees, and dug a hole to fit the pond liner snugly into the clay-filled ground. Below is one group of students wrapping up the first half of our work that week.
Moving forward, we are meeting with students and teaming up with our school’s Garden Club to adjust the design, build stationary beds, start produce and herb seeds, and plant in the flower garden areas. We have so much to do together before it is ready to go, but a rich outdoor learning space is so close in our future! Progress pictures and updates to come!