Posts tagged ‘school gardens’

Happy birthdays!

090704tires It’s the birthday of the USA, and it’s one year since I launched the Green Zone website.

090704cornfield090704cornwall090704mlkschoolgardenWhat a difference a year makes. We have a new president, and there’s a thriving vegetable garden on the grounds of the White House.

New gardens are sprouting everywhere! A brand-new community garden in Davis Park, a new garden in the works for the Davey Lopes Rec Center in South Providence, and a bunch of new school gardens here and there. And so many first-time backyard growers, too.

In the Summit neighborhood, there are flowerboxes full of vegetables on porches, and so many people have dug up their front lawns to plant ornamentals or grow their own food.

I spied this brand new neighborhood garden in Mt. Hope (3 top photos). Neighbors have taken over an empty lot. Guerrilla gardeners? Dig the ankle high dry-laid stone wall and the badminton court, not to mention the used-tire composter. And not far away is the MLK School Garden, which looks on target to harvest A LOT of delicious vegetables.

On this Independence Day, get independent.  In a pot or in a plot, grow your own food.

July 4, 2009 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

Providence Farm City

090513WGVurbanfarmersApologies to KISS…

Yesterday, I went to a meeting for Providence’s Urban Agriculture Task Force. Launched 4-5 years ago, it’s a confederation of state, local, non-profit, and individual representatives. Some of the projects initiated and/or completed by members include:

Amazing projects in Providence and beyond. And more to come. If you want to get involved, contact the UATF via Southside Community Land Trust.

May 13, 2009 at 6:59 am 1 comment

Hope gardens: it’s time (again)

1920-21statehousegardenHats off to Providence Journal Business editor John Kostrzewa for today’s column on “A seed of hope and easy to plant.” Kostrzewa suggests that in this time of economic crisis, hope is in short supply. While we work on the big-picture, long-term, structural fixes, why not engage in a more immediate way to improve Rhode Island: “Dedicate plots of land throughout the state for community gardens.”

His column puts forward a number of initiatives that may seem groundbreaking, but they all have precedents in Rhode Island’s recent history. For instance:

“How about using some of the highly visible sloping land that runs away from the State House. Or what about the 4.5 acres across the street from the Amtrak station.”
Done: Around 1920-21, the Rhode Island Normal School had a demonstration school garden on its grounds southwest of the State House–where Providence Place Mall stands today (see photo above).

“Make community gardens a statewide project. Make it a competition among each of the cities and towns to design and plant their own plots.”
Done: In 1916, Governor R. Livingston Beeckman initiated an annual garden contest among mill towns. Prizes were awarded for best vegetable garden, garden, and village appearance.

“Pick the sites from available public land.”
Done. In 1908, the city installed school gardens at Roger Williams Park. In 1943, the RI Senate passed a resolution “to formulate and promulgate a plan and program of procedure for the state of Rhode Island victory gardens upon state-owned land.”

“The seeds and plants can be donated.”
Done: In 1908, Congressman Daniel Granger secured donations of seeds for the Roger Williams Park school gardens. In 1932, RI Congressmen arranged for the US Dept. of Agriculture to distribute seeds to RI gardeners.

“Once the gardens have been planted, turn over the maintenance to service organizations, such as the scouts or fraternal groups.”
Done: During World War I, local organizations that participated in the War Garden movement included: RI Horticultural Society, Providence Housewives League, RI Boy Scouts (who guarded the gardens), and the League of Improvement Societies–not to mention dozens of factories and schools.

“And with so many unemployed people, let them work in a garden until they find a job.”
Done: During the Great Depression, state and local governments organized a statewide subsistence garden program of “private backyard gardens, vacant lot gardens, community plots divided into individual gardens, industrial gardens, industrial gardens for part-time workers, and community gardens not divided into individual plots but worked by unemployed men in return for food orders.”

As Kostrzewa notes, we’re on our way, thanks to the work of groups like Southside Community Land Trust and the Children’s Garden Network. I’ll add my two cents: just look to the past to learn how green Rhode Island can be.

Bibliographic note: The photograph of the demonstration garden at the RI Normal School comes from the League of Improvement Societies in RI Year Book for 1920-21. All other historical information derived from articles in the Providence Journal, 1906-1943.

April 12, 2009 at 2:21 pm 1 comment

Getting “busy in an agricultural way”

1917start-a-gardenYou can read this, right? Then do it! Start A Garden.

For the past few months I have been spending some quality time at the microfilm readers at the central (don’t make me call it Empire) Providence Public Library. The Rhode Island Collection includes a subject index to the Providence Journal. I am grateful to those generations of librarians who typed out article titles and dates and page numbers on catalog cards.

I have found hundreds of articles about WWI-era war gardens, WWII-era victory gardens, school gardens, community gardens, mill village gardens, and the like. And as I spin the microfilm reels to the next relevant page, it’s hard not to get distracted by all the other news and advertisements of the day.

This ad, run in the classified section on 15 May 1917, was a happy find. In 1917, Rhode Island had a case of gardenmania. In addition to all the organized garden programs–school gardens, Governor’s mill village garden contest, factory gardens, demonstration gardens, community gardens, and vacant lot gardens–individual citizens were planting “pocket-edition” gardens in their own backyards. Vegetable gardening was a statewide movement, or as the ad would have it, “a universal planting crusade.” The more I read about the Progressives’ impact on the urban environment in the 1900s and 1910s, the more I think about how it’s time to renew their goals for healthier cities and citizens today.

November 10, 2008 at 1:08 pm 1 comment

A good idea a century ago: school gardens in Providence

One hundred years ago…May 15, 1908, to be exact…the Providence Journal ran an illustrated article titled “Gardening a New Public School Study.” It noted that one of Providence’s first primary school gardens was established around 1900 by Principal Ella L. Sweeney at the Benefit Street School.

As the city’s Assistant Superintendent of primary grades in 1908, Miss Sweeney aimed to have a garden in every school so that every student could study and care for at least one plant. Ideally, each student would have his or her own garden. The initiative marked a shift in the popular “nature study” movement, which introduced the natural world inside the classroom. Miss Sweeney wanted students to take it outside.

She worked with others to secure a 1/2-acre plot at Roger Williams Park, soil from the RI College of Agriculture (now URI), and an instructor from the State Board of Agricluture. Students from Manton Avenue, Broad Street, Peace Street, Lexington Avenue, Vineyard Street, and Oxford Street schools were offered plots at the park and on vacant lots near their school to farm. According to the Journal, “The little gardens allotted to the children at the park are as much their own property as they would be were they started in their own back yards.”

Other school gardens noted in 1908 included the Open Air School on Meeting Street, Aldrich Street School for bad boys [heir words, not mine], vacant lots near Manton Avenue School, and a school in Pawtuxet Village.

One hundred years later, the Children’s Garden Network is aiming for a garden at every school and youth organization in Rhode Island by 2010. There are 40+ sites and counting. Furthermore, environmental advocates, education leaders, and government officials like Rhode Island’s Senator Jack Reed are supporting the “No Child Left Inside” initiative. Miss Sweeney had the right idea.

October 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm Leave a comment

gardening on the homefront: United States School Garden Army

A sister project of the Women’s Land Army of America was the United States School Garden Army (USSGA). This program was created by the federal Bureau of Education in early 1917. According to Charles Lathrop Pack, the army tended two fronts: 1) increasing food production and 2) agricultural education. The longterm goal was to grow “future citizens trained to intelligent application of the principles of thrift, industry, service, patriotism and responsibility.”

The US School Garden Army distributed gardening textbooks to American schools. Principals, teachers, and parents assisted students with creating and tending school gardens and home gardens. Historian Rose Hayden-Smith notes that the USSGA represented a groundbreaking effort to make agricultural education universal and nationwide. The program daringly (listen up, today’s educators!) targeted urban and suburban students, not just children in rural farm communities. The program was very appealing to Progressive reformers who viewed wholesome outdoor activities as an antidote to the unhealthy and unsavory urban environment.

The illustrations for School Garden Army publications are terrific. Artist Maginel Wright Enright (sister of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed a poster which became the symbol of the program. Pied Piper Uncle Sam leads a brigade of children brandishing garden tools as their weapons.

In just 18 months, the United States School Garden Army spent $250,000 to provide more than 50,000 teachers with the curriculum to educate several million children. Although the Board of Education disbanded the USSGA once the war was over, the United States Department of Agriculture continued some of the educational programs it had developed for rural youth during WWI. Efforts like the Cooperative Extension System and 4-H still thrive today.

References: Rose Hayden-Smith, “Soldiers of the Soil: A Historical Review of the United States School Garden Army,” 2006.

Charles Lathrop Pack, The War Garden Victorious (1919).

August 5, 2008 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

gardening on the homefront: Women’s Land Army of America

American women were active on every front of the War Garden movement during World War I. Much of the government-sponsored media and propaganda was directed squarely at mothers, teachers, college students, alumnae networks, volunteers, working women, and farm families. Advertisers targeted female consumers with seed catalogs, recipe books, advertisements, etc. As shoppers and preparers of food, women seized the opportunity to reshape the American agricultural industry–and the military budget–with their spending, their gardening, and their food conservation.

At home, women plowed, sowed, and harvested backyard vegetable gardens and canned their produce. At schools, female teachers and principals oversaw children’s gardens and educated American youth about patriotism and conservation. In the community garden and in the factory yard, women and men worked side by side.

Above and beyond the various elective gardening efforts, more than 20,000 women participated in a new national program which supported large-scale agricultural production. The Woman’s Land Army of America (WLAA) was organized in April 1918 to train and organize women to work in agricultural jobs vacated by men serving in the military. It followed the example of the Woman’s Land Army created by the British government in 1915.

Although the effort met with resistance from conservative farmers and some government officials, there was strong support in the White House. President Woodrow Wilson commended the “active and patriotic young women” of the WLAA, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson famously replaced the White House garden crew with a flock of sheep that grazed on the lawn. The sale of their wool raised $50,000 for the war effort.

Enlistees in the WLAA were paid for their labor at public and private farms throughout the country. A 1919 WLAA handbook called for an 8-to-12-hour work day, six days a week. Participants were required to wear farm gear, which became popularly known as “coveralls,” also known as “womanalls” or “freedomalls.”

Even with the armistice in November 1919, the Women’s Land Army of America remained in service. But as overseas military regiments were demobilized, men returned home to their jobs on the farm. Although the WLAA was dissolved in February 1920, it did much to advance standards for farm laborers and women alike. The program would be revived during World War II.

References: Handbook of standards for the Woman’s Land Army of America (1919).

Margaret Laughlin, “The Woman’s Land Army, 1918-1920” in Social Education 58(2), 1994.

Charles Lathrop Pack, The War Garden Victorious (1919).

July 22, 2008 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment


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