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School gardens bring us closer to food, life, and the future

These real-life stories from remote school gardens give us glimpses of the future of agriculture, of rural communities, and that of our children. 

Recent advancements in society, technology in particular, has altered the paradigm of education in so many ways. As much as experiential learning is still a cornerstone of education, its application has taken a myriad of forms. Mostly, by technology integration – virtual reality, software, animations, applications, cut-outs, and projections, to name a few.

With education moving towards this technological kind of approach, students have grown further away from the ground. However, if circumstances of public schools are assessed, they can maximize their environment to give students a more grounded experiential learning.

This is the inspiration of The Garden Classroom approach in enhancing the appreciation of agriculture in the basic education system. In 2016, AGREA moved the program from the drawing board to the ground.

LEARNING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM. The Garden Classroom helps enhance the quality of life of elementary students by turning barren and forgotten school gardens into blooming centers for learning.

The Garden Classroom 
The program’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for elementary students by turning barren and forgotten school gardens in the 183 elementary schools of Marinduque into blooming centers for learning. Schoolyard gardens provide students with living classrooms.

Through a schoolyard garden, students can learn food cultivation for healthy eating and nutrition, explore wildlife, participate in inter-school farming collaborations, and develop a passion for taking care of plants and the environment.

AGREA, together with DepEd Marinduque, aims to provide a high-quality learning environment by working in tandem with local leaders and community partners with shared goals in mind: scholastic achievement, health and wellness, and real-life connections.

AGREA and DepEd Marinduque believe all children can achieve their best potential when provided with nurturing educational experiences that enhance their understanding of the world, their future in it, and the confidence to secure their dreams. AGREA and DepEd are wholly committed to this endeavor.

VERMICOMPOSTING. School children are taught how to make and use fertilizers using natural ingredients and processes.

From Chalk Talk to Ground Work
The first year of implementation of The Garden Classroom was a mix of emotions. There were highs and there were lows. Each, telling a story about how the program becomes ever more significant.

Among the schools that proved itself to be challenging was Gaspar Elementary School. As part of the Tres Reyes Group of Islands, Gaspar is the only inhabited island with less than a hundred households cradled in its white sand beach coast. With no electricity and source of potable water, the community faces a big dilemma. Even the school was not spared from the prevailing social problems of experiencing theft - from garden produce to vanishing school fences.

Through The Garden Classroom, Gaspar Elementary School was able to restructure their school garden and improve its vegetable production. The Garden Classroom program has encouraged Gaspar Elementary School to ensure their garden is protected. As a result for the academic year 2016-2017 there has been zero incidents of theft from their garden produce.

HANDS-ON TRAINING. A student picks a vegetable planted a few months before.

The entry of the program to the Gaspar community has also allowed AGREA to tap the Municipal DSWD and the Barangay Official. Gaspar Elementary School will now be opening its grounds to families who want to build their own food garden through the help of DSWD – Gasan. This move has opened new solutions to the food security and poverty problem of the community.

Another equally inspiring story is that of Hinadharan Elementary School. Situated in the mountains, and surrounded by coconut trees that cast mesmerizing shadows, the school is set to reach new heights in providing assistance to the families of its students.

The school has transformed its garden based on the garden development plan designed for them, resolving issues on plot soil erosion. With grit and enthusiasm, the school succeeded in producing vegetables for their feeding program. More than that, they were able to allow some students to bring home garden produce for their families’ consumption. These families then consume more fresh garden products instead of canned goods from sari-sari stores. With so much pride, the teacher in-charge also said that they have started producing and sharing seeds, seedlings and cuttings to share with the barangay.

The Garden Classroom inspired not only the schools that are part of the program, but also schools who wish to improve their own school gardens. Among them is Bayakbakin Elementary School.

ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Inspired by the school and their children, these mothers came together and helped build the school's vertical garden.

The teacher in-charge of Bayakbakin Elementary School, on her own, enrolled in one of the AGREA Backyard Gardening Classes and applied her learning in transforming their school garden. With the success of their garden, the school now plans to help the barangay to have a community garden with the help of AGREA.

A GOOD DAY'S HARVEST. School children are taught to plant and consume vegetables produced in their schools.

The Garden Classroom has also had its own share of not so sunny stories. When Typhoon Nina hit the Island Province of Marinduque, the school gardens were not spared from its rage. Despite the devastation, schools have rebuilt their gardens and saved what they can. Together with AGREA, the schools are set to work on improving their gardens back into shape again this 2017-2018 academic year.

EDITOR’S NOTE. In 2018, AGREA and the DepEd Marinduque opened 12 slots for more public schools to be added in The Garden Classroom program. There are now 30 school gardens in the program. AGREA hopes we can raise more funds for them.

If you would like to support The Garden Classroom or simply want know more about it, please email us at info@agrea.ph.

Written by Helen Gemma Vallejos and The AGREA Team
First published in 20 June 2017
All images courtesy of Joan Pilar

Helen Gemma Vallejos was the Director of Social Programs at AGREA from 2015 to 2017. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science and Legal Studies from St. Mary's University in Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya. She is a Regional Awardee in the Search for Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines, and a National Finalist of the Gawad Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Kabataan 2014.

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