Live Green and Earn Points


Source Resourcefully To Solve More Than One Problem

By Green Schools Program |
The school-to-farm facilitator at Valley View Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ, tells us about a green classroom success:

A garden bed whose frame rots every few years is not quite the answer for a school aiming to be green — so what is the answer?
The school-to-farm facilitator at Valley View Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ, tells us about a green classroom success.
WRITTEN BY: School to Farm Facilitator Brett Smith

At the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, the Valley View woodworking class took on the project of rehabilitating the school’s garden. Although it was built just five years ago during a volunteer workday, and has served us well, time showed us that the garden had two major problems that must be corrected in order to make the space functional. Our first concern was that the raised beds, which were made of wood, had rotted and fallen apart. Secondly, the fence surrounding the garden was never completed, which meant that one side was left open and was vulnerable to stray soccer balls, students chasing after those balls, and a wide array of other elements that threaten many small gardens built to serve very active communities.

The task fell to my third- and fourth-grade students and functional skills (special education) classes, who have, over the years, created an outdoor classroom out of reclaimed wood from old picnic tables, created tables for the library out of reclaimed wood taken from the library remodel, and created chairs for the art room with scraps from a local woodworking shop.

To finish the fence, the students disassembled all of the garden’s existing raised beds and kept any wood that hadn’t been ruined by the soil or damaged by the water or animals that call the garden home. After collecting the wood, they cleaned and planed it — making it look better than new — and with a soft patina that only comes from time, age, and care. The wood was then processed into posts, cross-members and pickets. The only material purchased for the project was concrete (we even reused the old screws).

Solving the problem of the decaying wood in the raised beds took a little more time and creativity. Wasting thousands of feet of wood every five years was not an option, as part of our school’s mission to make ourselves a more self-sustaining community. The solution came when my class was looking through our school’s animal habitat storage room and came across deer netting and straw, which we often used to protect the garden’s plants from the school’s rabbit population. With a little trial and error we created 20-foot long by 10-inch-thick tubes of straw encased in deer netting. These tubes could be formed into a rectangle and filled with soil, like waddling used as a method of erosion control when the Department of Transportation undertakes road construction projects.

The new raised beds functioned exactly the same as the old ones, and although the tubes will need to be replaced every two years, the eco-friendly materials and our ability to use renewable, sustainable products, as opposed to wood from Douglas Fir trees, greatly reduces the project’s impact on the environment.

In mid-February we supplemented the soil in the raised beds with compost created from waste taken from the cafeteria, seeds were planted and now we water the plants and fill our field journals with observations. Our students are currently looking forward to a healthy spring harvest of corn, peas, lettuce, cucumbers, and more.

Have you completed a project by reusing found materials? Share yours in the comments below.

Recyclebank Green Schools Program awards grants to schools in order to fund environmental projects that empower youth to green their own communities. For every 100 points donated to an accepted school, Recyclebank donates $10 to that school.

Under the guidance of Brett Smith and John Wann, Valley View Elementary School students will be adding sheep and chickens to their school’s 7.5 acre orchard. The animals will control weeds and insects in the orchard, provide products to be sold at the farmer’s market, and provide yet another learning opportunity for their students.

Learn more about the Green Schools Program!

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  • Elaine F. 7 years ago
    I helped my father make a closet for me out of an old entertainment center.
  • 9 years ago
    Great Article,

    Proud of Valley View School
    Theresa Lerma, Assistant Principal
    Valley View School