Sustainable Agriculture in the Classroom

“Once, I went to the house of a family of one of my students for dinner, and brought with me a healthy salsa with lots of vegetables. The adults all looked at it like it was from another planet, but my student immediately asked, “Where is the food Miss Phoebe brought? I love things she cooks!” And shoveled some onto his plate. Seeing this, his mom then took some as well and really liked it, asking me for the recipe at the end of the evening. Seeing their kids eat healthier and try new things can be a great motivator for families to cook with more vegetables.”
-Teacher from Fundación Patagonia Sur (FPS)

Fundacion Patagonia Sur – Palena, Chile
Project Title: Agro-Educational Experiential Outdoor Classroom

Palena is located in Chilean Patagonia, one of the most extraordinary natural reserves in the Southern Hemisphere. Fundación Patagonia Sur (FPS) has partnered directly with the local school for 5 years to supplement and enhance the academic science curriculum through hands-on, interactive, environmental education, promoting awareness about sustainability and stewardship, and increasing community engagement.

A Captain Planet Foundation grant allowed FPS to expand its Sustainable Agriculture in the Classroom program by adding an agro-educational, experiential outdoor classroom including an organic garden and meeting space to the local school. The outdoor classroom enabled biweekly science classes under the direction of the FPS environmental education teacher. The classes combined science literacy with the health and environmental issues affecting the community of Palena.

The outdoor classroom project included raised beds, a covered seating area, 3 types of composters, 3 gardening spaces, rainwater collection, educational signs, a path made from recycled glass bottles, and a solar dehydrator.  A greenhouse made from 95% recycled materials and a fence for the garden area made from abundant native bamboo species were also fixed. 12 Students aided in the construction and springtime weekly after-school workshop.

Students carried out three recycling campaigns in order to gather the necessary recycled materials for building: paper for the vermicompost, plastic bottles for the water collection beds, and glass bottles for the path. The students helped design the garden layout, planted, thinned, weeded, composted, watered, transplanted, and even did some building. Each week when the students came to school they would see the volunteers working and the progress that had been made since the previous week, understanding what a process it was to transform the space into their outdoor classroom. With each step they learned lessons about natural processes (decomposition, the water cycle, the carbon cycle, needs of plants), and put into practice skills in science, math, art, and gardening.

In the workshop they also discussed the environmental impact of transporting food versus growing locally, and the benefits of growing your own food. The instructor also noticed a real change in the students eating habits through the workshop. The students presented projects to the school at assemblies, spreading their knowledge and interest in the environment to the other students in the school.

93 students will make direct use of the educational garden during the 2014 school year, for after-school workshops, special events, and classes. The project will also be presented at a conference for environmental education (attended by educators from all over Chile) so that they may replicate the project in their own towns and learn from this experience, therefore indirectly benefiting many more students.

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