Colleton High students working on a sustainable garden
By Melissa Smith
Students at Colleton County High School in Walterboro, will soon reap what they have sown — in a very literal way.
“Being involved in this garden will help students learn about how to grow food and really bring learning to life,” says Principal Cliff Warren.
Scott Steedley, co-founder of the International Center for Sustainability (ICS), approached Warren with the idea. When he talks about planting the garden — which will include fruit-bearing trees, blueberries, persimmons, asparagus, blackberries, broccoli, tomatoes and raspberries — he might as well be talking about the students. “This is a good place to plant seeds that grow to produce a bountiful harvest while at the same time sustain lasting results,” he says.
The goal of ICS is to foster partnerships between businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to combine grassroots efforts with large-scale campaigns to work toward a more environmentally sustainable world.
“This is crucial when seeking to develop relationships that create sustainable results close to the heart of what matters most during these delicate times,” Steedley says.
Warren welcomed Steedley’s ideas, and the kids at Colleton High will soon be seeing the fruits of their labor.
“He wanted to help get it started and came with ideas; then we started talking, and it’s gone from there,” Warren says.
Steedley, a Walterboro native and current resident, praised the school and Warren for being open to such ideas. “Colleton High School is a state-of-the-art facility with a super principal in Cliff Warren,” Steedley says.
The garden will be located in an open courtyard space between two buildings at the high school.
The best part about the garden is that it’s going to be self-sustainable. Community members have donated soil and some other necessary materials to make the garden possible. Whatever the students grow will either be used in the cafeteria or sold, with the profits being returned to the school for garden upkeep.
“Students in the agriculture class planned it out,” Warren says.
The garden is going to be in a circle design. “You can stand in one spot and be able to get to all areas of it,” Warren says.
Along with the agriculture students, one of the special needs classes will also be able to spend time working in the garden.
Through the project, students will learn about soil health, inoculation, companion planting, mutually beneficial natural relationships, sheet mulching, keyhole garden beds, composting, organic fertilization and pesticides and the interconnectedness of natural systems.
It’s not the first project for Steedley.
“A few years ago we planted Loquat fruit trees, blueberries and rosemary at Colleton Middle School in an area where soft drink machines sat previously,” Steedley says. “Everything, except for the vending machines, is still alive as far as I know.”
Beyond the dirt
There are more ways of growing a garden than out of soil. Aquaponic elements are being discussed as a future addition to the school’s garden.
Aquaponic gardening is a natural and environmentally friendly way of growing plants that is an alternative to traditional soil-based gardening. Fish waste is converted to plant nutrients via a re-circulating, man-made ecosystem. Some of the benefits of aquaponics gardening are: fewer weeds, less bending and back strain and fewer animals feeding on your garden.
“Colleton High has pond areas suited for future aquaculture/aquaponics development,” Steedley says.
Through grant funding, and continued donations through fundraising and community and business donations, organizers hope to be able to incorporate rain barrels for water harvesting.
“I’ve been to every school in Colleton County once or twice over the years to raise awareness regarding the choices we make as consumers and producers and how that not only affects our lives, but the lives of our neighbors and the planet as a whole,” Steedley says.
He maintains that education is the main driving force behind founding the International Center for Sustainability.
But, really, it’s all about educating kids to provide for themselves in the future. “The key is using the teaching platform to instill essential elements that not only make people productive members of a civilized society, but also allow them to provide for their basic needs like food, water and shelter,” Steedley says.
Warren also hopes the kids will gain more real-world skills and knowledge from building and maintaining a garden.
“I think they don’t realize where their food comes from anymore because of fast food and processed foods,” Warren says.
The kids will certainly be getting their hands dirty, because they will be learning about more than just when to plant and water their garden.
They’ll be learning about compost.
“Probably the best learning experience for them is to find out about that process,” Warren says, “It will be an eye-opening experience.”
Steedley is excited to see what planting the garden can do for the school and the students.
“I feel that Mr. Warren really cares about his school, students and the community at large and that he’s receptive to creative endeavors,” he says. “These are the kind of people I like to collaborate with.”