This past year we had a lot of success in engaging local youth at our garden through a large Global Youth Service Day project, after-school programming, youth day/summer camps, University volunteer days, and more. Through these programs we are helping youth get in touch with where their food comes from, understand sustainable food practices and become engaged with building a healthy community. We have also had a lot of success in focusing on soil health, keeping soil covered, companion planting, and water retention techniques. We have been focused on teaching these areas to both adults and youth at the garden over the past year and hope to expand this programming even further in the upcoming months/years. We have also had great success expanding our composting programming and are currently working on further expansion in that area.
What challenges did or does your project face?
Weather has been a big challenge over the past year. Our region was hit with Hurricane Harvey and more recently has gone through a period of extended drought that led to water restrictions, shortly followed by heavy flash flooding. We also had an unusually cold winter for this region with a snowstorm and multiple freezes. All of these events have had an effect on maintenance, structures and production at The Learning Garden but have provided even bigger challenges and losses to some of our close partners, nurseries and farms in the area. Our local food system is very closely intertwined and losses in one area have a big effect on the whole.
How are you working to overcome them?
We have held large clean up days at The Learning Garden as well as traveled to other locations for clean up and lent general helping hands as much as we could around the area. We have tried to stay committed to supporting local in our plant and tree purchases even if it has meant rescheduling or delays due to the weather problems and flooding. We hope to be able to keep this commitment even with the more recent floods. Some of our garden structures, like our hoop-house, still need rebuilding from the wind damage from Harvey, but we have mended them as best as we can in the meantime and are putting together a rebuilding plan and budget to get them more sound in the future.
What did you or your project learn this season that might be useful to others as well?
We found our supply of mulch invaluable this past year, which is generously donated by a local business. It was very useful in keeping our plants insulated through the snow and multiple freezes, especially our trees and our more heat-loving over-seasoned plants, like eggplants. Later, our system of creating swales filled with mulch around our garden rows helped a lot with water retention when we were hit with a long drought period.