Charlestown Primary School Garden

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By James Milnes Gaskell

Under the auspices of their go-ahead Young headmistress, Latoya Jeffers, the CPS is to develop a garden on 1.344 acres at the foot of Wards and adjacent to Cable TV dishes.  On campus, CPS has a shade house and a mini garden.  Both are doing well.  This project is altogether different.  It is on a good, fertile, level piece of land, large enough to produce several tons of produce annually, if properly and professionally run.

The purpose of the garden is to:

  1.  Provide organically grown vegetables and fruit for the CPS Kitchen and the lunch programme in such quantities as shall minimise or eliminate  the need to acquire same from other sources;
  2.  To educate CPS children in the propagation of healthy crops from germination to harvest, including soil cultivation, fertility, hydration and  pest and weed management, and to encourage a lifelong interest in it.
  3.  To use the garden, at appropriate times as an outdoor active classroom.

This is a public/private project, involving the Private Initiative (PI) (Hastings Daniel and James Gaskell and their families), the Administration, and various section of same, CPS, and the Community.  Private and Public must play their part.  The Private has made the `land available, cleaned it, fenced it, including erecting anti monkey electric wires, set up a container (donated by Rams), repaired and re-roofed the container,  provided a knock down shade house, a drip feed irrigation system and materials for a concrete based picnic/teaching shelter, and a toilet building.  Erection of these items is continuing.

The function of Public, Ministers of Education and Agriculture, is to provide the two or three persons necessary to manage and work the garden.  So that CPS and their kitchen can have their daily vegetable requirements satisfied, it is essential that the garden manager report directly to the CPS Headmistress.

To guarantee the success of this project, and it must succeed, Public and Private have to carry out their respective responsibilities.

Some months ago, when preparation of the garden was in an early stage, we had a meeting on site with Alexis Jeffers and Wakely Daniel, representing Agriculture and Education.  We know they are very enthusiastic as they both said so to the TV camera.  Indeed Minister Jeffers expressed the hope that this was just the first garden and that other schools would be able to do the same.

Here is why a Minister and indeed the entire community should be keen.

This is perhaps the most important and far reaching social, agricultural and education initiative of a practical nature to be launched in Nevis for many years.  Long term, this project should increase production and consumption of fruit and vegetables on Nevis, reduce food imports, lower non-communicable disease rates, raise the number of persons making a career in agriculture, as well those using their yards for vegetable production, and because growing produce provides a creative constructive outlet for youthful energy it may cut down the numbers taking up unsociable criminal activities.  For nutrition the mantra is: ‘If they grow it, they will eat it’.  Thus this scheme should have a broad scale positive impact on diverse budgetary, health and social matters that have concerned our Administration for a long time.  Provision of more organic vegetables for CPS means better health, and better concentration in class.  A diet high in organic fruit and vegetables is acknowledged to be protective and to reduce the chance of becoming diabetic.

In America an organisation called ‘REAL school gardens’ reports that three years after starting school gardens, between 12 and 15% more children in these school passed standardised tests.  Also that about twice as many teachers report being satisfied with their job after the school cultivates its garden. ‘We expected that children would be more engaged (with their lessons) but as a result it was re-energising the teachers with the profession of teaching.  It was exciting, surprising and valuable’.  Net result, children find it easier to learn.  Teachers find it more fun and rewarding to impart their knowledge.

How does a child feel about his/her school garden?  A dramatic illustration of this was on an on line post:

‘He came to us (the school) with many seeds planted in his life.  The seed of violence from an abusive father.  The seed of anger from a defensive single mother.  The seed of poverty, he was one of eight children.  The seed of hunger – he needed a small snack upon entering school to make it to breakfast without defiant episodes.

Enter the school garden.  It was time to plant our beans.  His eyes began to sparkle as he helped to prepare the warm dry soil, breaking up clods, removing stones and smoothing the earth with his hands.  Hope was planted in one small bean seed.  Motivation was nurtured by teachers who encouraged him, saying ‘Let’s check to see how our beans are doing’.

The reason for hard work sprouted from the kindness and caring for the needs of baby plants.  Self discipline  grew as he turned his thoughts to the garden, visiting to water, weed and assess growth.  Just as the beans matured,  so did his respect for himself and others.

He took joy in gathering the crop to share with his school community, knowing he had been responsible for raising it.  He washed and stemmed the beans for cooking.  He delighted in the fruits of his labour, smiling as he ate.  He saved one bean to take home sharing the miracle of growth and transformation with his family.

The school garden impacting one child at a time’.

Now that we have water on site, the sooner CPS children get involved in their garden the better.  It is, of course, out of the hands of the PI and up to the Public to appoint the staff to run it.  The PI was glad to work with the NRP Administration over the building and commissioning of the CPS kitchen.  It is equally pleased to work with the CCM Administration to develop the CPS garden.  The kitchen may be deemed a success.  For it the Administration had to add 5 or 6 cooks, to the Administrations employee list.  For the garden 2 or 3 additionals are required.  We have able people.  If the Administration truly wants the garden to fulfil its extraordinary potential, they will need quickly to make appropriate appointments.  The project is tailor made for one or two of the Earth University – Costa Rica students, now on Ann Bass scholarships but not due to return for a couple of years.

The CPS new website, www.charlestownprimaryschool.com will not only tell you everything about the school, but should also give frequent updates about the garden.  Check this website.   It shows a school confident in itself, happy in its traditions and its innovations.

We do not yet have enough garden tools for full scale children participation, so would be grateful for donations in cash or kind – actual tools, new or used, especially small tools like trowels and hand forks.  Contact Ms. Jeffers.  Deliver to the school.

Finally, with permission of the school, my family dedicates the CPS garden to the memory of James Edward Milnes Gaskell, born and died December 27th, 2016, in the hope that hundreds of children will become the keen little gardener that he might have been.

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