In researching our latest urban agriculture project, the Rainbow Garden, we learned a lot about creating a regenerative garden system layered with opportunities for educational programming.
Getting creative with edible landscaping is a totally rewarding design challenge, especially in Los Angeles where the microclimates are so forgiving. A partially-shaded arbor over an outdoor classroom that needs to keep kids cool in the summer and warm in the winter becomes the perfect scaffold for deciduous grape vines! Edible flower species are abundant for more decorative planting areas, edible bushes like pineapple guava make great hedges, and a mix of herbs and strawberries makes for delicious groundcover. Interactions with this diversity of edible potential can be a foundational moment to a child who may have only seen a broccoli florette trimmed in a grocery store or radishes cleaned and sliced outside their subterranean contexts.
Habitat + Pollinator Plants
The next level of edible landscaping is including native and pollinator plants that are food and habitat for the birds and bugs that are true indicators of a thriving, healthy garden. But careful, some plants like milkweeds, which are great for migrating Monarch butterflies, have sap with toxins that can be harmful to people. It's important to have clear indications of where non-edible plantings are, and to seclude them from the edible areas.
Wild critters are a necessary part of a bio-dynamic garden, but chickens can contribute to the ecology of a garden too! Chickens eat pests and provide manure, and eggs are a low-impact and delicious addition to garden-based culinary adventures. The chicken coop and yard introduces students to an animal component of sustainable food production and cultivates greater understanding of the micro-ecological systems of an urban garden.
Community Seed Banking
A seed bank doesn't only make for more ecologically resilient garden, it's also a great way to introduce heirloom cultivars and teach kids about plant propagation and the importance of biodiversity.
Rainwater Capture and Stormwater Mitigation
Capturing rainwater is feasible on many scales, from active underground cistern capture systems to above-ground rain barrels that collect water from roofs and be used as the primary irrigation source for a certain planted area. Stormwater gardens that capture and biofiltrate water onsite are also opportunities to demonstrate hydrological system health. These garden water systems can act as focal points for highlighting regional water issues and cultivating a sense of stewardship for our water systems.
In Santa Monica, our water system's connection to the ocean is especially important and impacted by trash and pollution. A zero-waste program in an urban farm is an important way to reject single-use plastics, model sustainability, and teach students about decomposition, chemistry, and the energy cycle. Water bottle stations, biodegradable and reusable horticultural materials, and compost systems and worm bins are all great applications of a zero-waste campus policy that showcase the value of recycling and regenerative systems.
Put it all together with a central meeting area, some reflective spaces, and an educational kitchen, and you've got truly bountiful edible educational resource that keeps on giving long after the kids have hung up their gardening gloves.