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Luther Burbank School: 2018 Carton 2 Garden Winner

Luther Burbank garden programSchool gardens provide an excellent space to explore local ecosystems.  Students can investigate who lives in the garden and discover the unique role each member plays, how they interact to create an intricate web, and why each organism is important to the whole system. To dive deep into biodiversity and help her students better understand the complex interactions existing in their local environment, Luther Burbank School’s garden coordinator Alexandra Carbone launched a Carton 2 Garden Contest project focused on creating a bird habitat on school grounds.

“Despite many lessons around biodiversity,” shares Alexandra, “I noticed there was still a disconnect among my students on which species the garden primarily belongs to.” After discovering the Carton 2 Garden contest, she talked with the school’s art teacher and the two teamed up to collaborate on a project focused on birds. “Even with year-round sunshine, Los Angeles was ranked the 74th city in the U.S. with access to parks and green spaces, whereas New York City was ranked 4th. Luther Burbank is located just north of downtown LA and presents an ideal opportunity to support much-needed habitat for native birds as well as the insects and plants they feed on. I decided to take this carton contest as an opportunity to not only repurpose otherwise wasted materials, but also design a project where art and garden classes would research and collaborate to create an appropriate bird habitat.”

Their Carton 2 Garden Team was made up of the school’s garden classes, garden club, special needs class, and an advanced art class.  “The project began by identifying what a habitat is: shelter, food, water,” Alexandra continues. “Students then selected one bird species to research and track, and began planning how cartons could be repurposed to support that habitat. The art class used 32 cartons to cut, paint and hang as bird feeders, which were filled with sorghum grown in the garden. The remaining cartons were used by the garden class and garden club to grow bird-friendly plants and close the loop between growing and saving seeds. We planted sunflowers for food, milkweed for more bugs and nesting materials, native wildflowers for more bugs and bird edible seeds, and birdhouse gourds to be used for building birdhouses once they grow and dry out.”

Luther Burbank School
A painting of a bird at Luther Burbank School. Art, special needs, and garden classes collaborated to make this project a success.

Through the project, students learned that  “birds play a vital role in balancing the ecosystem by spreading seeds, recycling nutrients, managing bug populations, and pollinating flowers all at little if not no cost to humans.” Alexandra also helped them understand that growing urban areas are a threat to animal habitats. “Unfortunately, as cities like LA continue to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult for birds to find a sustainable habitat, thus they die or leave the city altogether. This project made students appreciate the few birds that were on campus before and though we didn’t record the average number of birds before our project, there was a very noticeable increase after the students put in all the habitat’s supporting features. My students were surprised how simple yet effective their feeders and plants were at bringing in more birds.”

The students gained more than knowledge of birds through their efforts.  “While there were many sub-lessons in this project, my biggest goal was for students to consider what other living species need to survive and the consequences of human impact on the environment. LA’s ecosystem faces many challenges that we have discussed in our classes such as desertification, lack of fresh water, and food insecurity. When we stress it by eradicating necessary species, these natural (and essential for human survival) processes are negatively impacted.”

Luther Burbank School was awarded a 2018 Middle/High School Carton 2 Garden Award for their efforts. You can learn more about their project and also find more information about this year’s contest at Carton2Garden.com.