Campus Greens for Our Community, by Hannah Cutler
Hannah Culter is a senior at The Shipley School and the creator of The Shipley School Community Garden.
I built the community garden at Shipley last fall, after returning home from the Brown Leadership Institute at Brown University. As part of the leadership program, each student was required to develop and pitch an action plan; the design for my community garden was the result of this assignment.
My community garden proposal emerged from my own desire to understand the farm to table concept first-hand. While at Brown, I asked my former art teacher if she would mentor me throughout the process. With her support, I contacted the Head of School and the Director of Dining Operations at Shipley, and initiated the first conversation with faculty and administrators about building a community garden. With talks underway, I targeted publicity in the Upper School at Shipley, sending out countless emails and dispersing materials about the garden project. Thirty interested students and 10 faculty members backed my proposal, and they helped me through the process of watering, planting, and maintaining the garden. I also reached out to the environmental club to discuss a partnership: in return for the compost they could provide our garden, I would help to promote our partnership in the garden column I write for our school newspaper, The Beacon.
There are four raised beds in the Shipley garden, containing a myriad of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. This past May, we harvested and served 88 cups of organic lettuce from the garden – the first harvest to come directly from the campus’s ground. In my most recent garden update email to the student body, I introduced a day for grocery shopping in the Shipley community garden. People attended and picked what they pleased, putting produce in Ziploc bags which we provided for them. During the following summer growing season, we harvested enough produce to donate to Philabundance's Share the Harvest redistribution program.
When I originally proposed the idea of a garden to the administration at Shipley, their primary concern was how I would ensure that the garden would still thrive after I graduate. Challenged to prove my vision to be possible, I have worked hard to rally support from students and faculty who not only see the value of a garden education, but who also enjoy and understand how to cultivate the land. I was not a gardener before I started this project, so I know it is possible to gain the skill required to keep a garden growing. I remain amazed by the eagerness of students and faculty to get involved.
As fall approaches this year, our largest task in the garden is to start planting fall produce. We recently pulled out the fall plants (herbs excluded!), and will be using the school greenhouse and installing cold frames over the raised beds in order to extend our growing season. But in thinking about long-term garden growth, I have begun to look toward the larger community for support. I reached out to The Challenge Program, a nonprofit that uses sustainable practices and recycled materials to teach vocational skills to at-risk youth in the Wilmington area, and they have agreed to make a sign for the garden which we will most likely install in the spring. Additionally, I have been working with my school’s eight-grade science teacher, Ms. Caroline Feldman, to incorporate the garden into her classroom unit on food and sustainability.
With a quarter of the year almost over, I can already sense that the garden will be even more successful this year, now that we have proven that the bounty we grow can impact the food served in our school cafeteria, the minds of our students, and the larger community that is eager to see us succeed. The remaining task – and a large one at that – is to find the next student leaders who share my interest in maintaining and growing a farm to table connection through our campus garden. From what I have seen so far, we have many committed, determined student leaders to choose from.