Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Urban Gardening Project with Edmund Burke School

by Coy McKinney 

Lasagna Composting, July 2013
With the help of 9th grade students from the nearby Edmund Burke School, there will soon be a hyper-local place for UDC students, faculty, staff, and neighbors to grab locally grown, organic food -- on campus!

An aerial map of the project is available here.

The project started when Kate Lee, of DC Greens, reached out to me about the possibility of Edmund Burke students volunteering in a garden at UDC. Christiane Connors, the Director of Service for the school, explained that their 9th graders were learning about climate change science in their earth science class, and as a service-learning project, their teacher would like them to work in a community garden. Once the schedules were aligned, the plan was that 5 different groups of kids would visit the garden 8 times, starting in late March and ending in late May.

The project presented the perfect opportunity to revisit a space that was designated a great place for an on-campus garden over a year ago. To prepare the space back then, an experiment in lasagna composting was implemented. Lasagna composting requires no tilling, and can be done using materials that are readily available around the university (compost, cardboard, leaves, coffee grounds).

The process consisted of applying a base layer of compost, followed by cardboard, and then alternating sheets of materials containing carbon and nitrogen (newspaper, coffee grounds, and leaves). Over time, microorganisms break the matter down, turning it into nutrient-rich soil.

Watch a short video of the lasagna composting process:

Eight months on since the lasagna composting, the Edmund Burke students were able to see the results of the process. Although not perfect (most likely due to an improper ratio of carbon to nitrogen), there was a clear difference in the quality of the soil where the composting had taken place--a worthwhile experiment and something of note for anybody interested in trying it out themselves.

Continue reading to learn more about the project!

On the first day of the project, the students were provided with background information about the garden, and asked about their favorite vegetables. Students were also given the choice of helping to weed, build trellises, or decorating the surrounding area with garden-related artwork. The students made their decisions and we went off to work.

We made small chat, learned about their interests, and listened, all the while reminiscing about our days as 14 and 15 year-olds. And special thanks to Whole Foods Tenleytown, who donated snacks, fruit, water, and juice to fuel us through the day.

Afterwards, it was amazing to see how much we individually and collectively contributed to transforming the space. The artists had outlined themselves on a nearby wall holding different garden tools, a trellis had been constructed, and there were a lot fewer weeds in our gardening space than before. We were off to a great start!

Life-sized art, courtesy of Edmund Burke students.
Over the next couple of weeks, the students continued to meet, preparing the gardens for planting. Some of the students continued weeding, others gathered and placed bricks to outline the future beds, while some contributed artwork.

At this point in the process, we are almost ready to apply some bags of compost donated to the project by the urban composting company, Compost Cab. Once applied, the students will choose what we'd like to grow, and then we'll use the square-foot gardening method to grow as much of it as we can.

Be sure to watch the Associated Press Television piece with Coy McKinney and Edmund Burke students. And stay tuned to Just CAUSES for future updates!

Coy McKinney, coordinator of the UDC Garden Club, is a graduate of UDC's David A. Clarke School of Law, yet urban farming is his true passion. Questions? He can be reached at udcgardenclub@gmail.com. 

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