By Martina Tomassini (First Fifth Global Advocate)
Teaching kids about gardening and water conservation, while feeding them healthy, organic veggies for lunch? Yes, it’s happening!
Thanks to a partnership with the Yes to Seed Fund, St. Timothy’s Primary School is the first school in the Kilimanjaro region to have a drip irrigation garden to feed its students and teach them about gardening and water conservation! Yes, it is the same skin & hair care company that many of you know for its yummy fragrances and organic content: Yes To Carrots.
Photo: © MT/Mama Hope – Getting ready!
How does it work?
Mix hundreds of eager students with 850 square feet of fertile land, a few handfuls of local seeds, several meters of drip irrigation pipes and voilà: you have a healthy recipe for a successful environmental & educational project. And It’s fun too! The kids love helping in the garden and can’t wait to get more involved with the school environmental club as soon next semester starts. The environmental club will teach them basics about water conservation, gardening, crops, sustainable agriculture techniques as well as nutrition. This way, while students learn about theory in the classroom in the morning, in the afternoon they can put it into practice, get their hands dirty by weeding, mulching and harvesting and have fun! With the help of teachers, students take care of the garden and the vegetables harvested supplement their daily lunch programme.
Talking about teachers, I spoke with teacher Beatrice the other day, who told me how working in the garden every day is helping her a lot. Not long ago she was diagnosed with high blood pressure but since she started working in the garden she’s had no problems and her blood pressure levels are back to normal. What a welcome side effect of the school garden!
Photo © MT/Mama Hope – Teacher Beatrice planting spinach seeds
The garden currently grows kale, onions, cabbage and spinach. Each leafy vegetable crop can beharvested once a week for three to five months before replacing them with new seedlings. Along the pathways of the garden we are planting drought-resistant papaya, avocado, mango and passion fruit trees! Vegetables and other crops are chosen based on different factors like nutrients, market scarcity and profitability. For example, kale is too expensive at the market? Then, we can grow it ourselves! And if we grow more than we need, we’ll sell it to buy cheaper items we don’t have land to grow, like corn or wheat. Genius.
Meshak, 13, puts it in plain words, ‘I like the garden…it is so good! I like the fact that we can get some money for the school by selling extra vegetables that are grown here! My favourite is spinach!
Simply put, drip irrigation is a water delivery method that saves water and grows healthier crops by dripping the exact amount of water needed, directly to the root system. This is done through narrow pipes with little holes, which are positioned just above each seed. The garden manager opens the gate valve and water drips for a fixed amount of time, exactly where it’s needed – as opposed to flushing the whole plot with a sprinkler.
Photo: © MT/Mama Hope – Drip irrigation pipes
We spent a couple of days preparing the land, connecting the pipes and laying them out so that the pipes would be straight and the holes face downwards – the city girl in me stepped aside and let me enjoy the process. A lot! It must be said, though, that the lion’ share of the work was brilliantly executed by our environmentalist extraordinaire Rocky Muuri and Mama Hope’s pillar Tom Veazy.
Photo: © MT/Mama Hope – Dig deeper! Work harder!
Both the village leader and the academic director have shared with me their concerns about the weather changing and the soil becoming drier and drier. In fact, the biggest problem that the village leader identified for Newland, the village where the school is located, is maji: water. Over the past 20 years, Sub-Saharan areas like the Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania have been affected by severe droughts which, together with deforestation, affect water supply and food production. Setting up water-saving drip irrigation gardens in areas where water is scarce? Makes sense.
Why does this matter?
Educational tool, food source and income generator – this is the drip irrigation garden, in a nutshell. And this is why it’so relevant to St. Timothy’s School. The school relies on tuition fees paid by its students as its main source of funding: attracting more students thanks to the garden, and to more classrooms, has an incredible long-term positive impact on the school’s sustainability. As Alex, 12, sums up, ’Our garden is a good garden! It has fertile soil that helps vegetables grow. And it is an incentive for additional children to come to our school. Also, it attracts people’s attention. For example, somebody is passing by but, when they look at our garden, they have to stop and look closer. And they say, what’s this? Beautiful!’
Photo: © MT/Mama Hope – Thriving spinach & kale
Alex told me his favourite vegetable is Chinese cabbage. ‘When the cooks prepare it it’s so good we lick our fingers…’ A finger-licking drip irrigation garden is what I call an exceptional garden. This is a drop in Tanzania too. This is not just classrooms…
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