This past Monday we got over a half a foot of snow here in Burlington. The majority of our school gardens have already been put to bed though there were still a couple of chores to be done here and there, but with the snow it seems that the growing season is officially over whether we wanted it to be or not. Time for a school garden retrospective!
At the end of the season, I always like to think back over the past year and take stock of how things went in the school garden. Below are some of the questions I like to tackle with the gardening committees at the schools I work with.
- Were we happy with what we grew and was there a use for our produce? It’s always important to think about what you’re growing in a school garden and why. In particular, I’ve found that if you have a garden focused on a food project, it’s good to revisit how/if produce was harvested in a timely manner and and how/if it was utilized (whether that be in a classroom cooking activity or donated to a local food pantry). If you ended up with a lot of wasted produce, it might be sensible to dial back your growing efforts next season. Or you might realize that certain crops were extra popular with students and it might be worth the effort to grow more of that in the future.
- What were our basic management needs and were they met? Who shouldered most of the work? Did we have enough volunteers or do we need to cultivate a wider network to support watering, weeding, and harvesting? It might be beneficial to break this question down into multiple timeframes—end of the school year (planting time for many folks in northern climates), summer break, start of the school year.
- Do we need to adjust our growing practices? The answer to this question will likely be informed by the discussions you have about the two previous topics. If you struggle with getting volunteers during the summer does it make sense to have high yield crops like summer squash and cucumbers that were left to rot on the vine? Was your school cafeteria really excited to use all the kale you grew? If so, maybe you grow more next year to provide a more consistent supply to the food service staff.
- How much money did we spend last year on garden supplies and projects? Do we foresee similar spending this coming year? Having a solid grasp of your budget is always helpful, in particular if you’re making any asks of your PTOs or PTAs.
- Do we need anything to improve our programming next year? This could refer to physical infrastructure and equipment that might make gardening easier or more accessible for students or it could refer to trainings and resources for staff to feel more comfortable teaching in the garden.
What are your strategies for looking back at the last growing season and synthesizing your garden accomplishments? Do you have your own school garden retrospective? How do you plan for the coming year ahead? Feel free to share your tips and thoughts; we’d love to hear from you!