The global trend towards urbanization has been well-documented: small cities are becoming big cities and some big cities are becoming mega-cities. Not only does this pose challenges for providing these populations with fresh fruits and vegetables, consider that (according to Science Daily) many people living in cities spend 80% of their time indoors. By working urban gardening into your curriculum not only can you dig into strategies being used by sustainable cities to improve the quality of life for their citizens, but studies have shown that plants in the classroom can lower stress and improve your students’ attention, performance, sense of well-being and satisfaction with the course. What’s not to like?
El movimiento del huerto urbano. Urban gardening can refer to reclaiming abandoned or underutilized public spaces for the common good, or dedicating a balcony or other part of one’s dwelling to cultivation for personal use. Two resources from Spain capture the positive impact of urban gardens on the community. Red de Huertos Urbanos de Madrid includes a map, photos, resources and an extensive biblioteca where you and your students can download pdf files and power points covering the whys and hows. Although Huertos Urbanos Barcelona is an older blog, it describes a project that includes videos, striking photographs and “una análisis de la experiencia de huertos urbanos como formas de intervención social y ambiental.” For more “how to” information, students can visit Horturbá or El Balcón Verde (both also from Spain) and Huerto de Urbano (from Chile). Also check out Sembradores Urbanos (from Mexico D.F.). Their video below describes the origin of the organization and gives some examples of urban gardening strategies for small spaces.
Curricular connections. Here’s a few ideas.
Give your students a scenario and let them work in teams to create a design for an urban garden, including companion planting, watering needs, and space and material requirements (all relevant information is available in the above web sites). Teams can display their designs and vote on the best, the most economic, the easiest to take care of, the most nutritious, etc.
Students can incorporate urban gardening into a larger project about cities. Would you include an urban garden in a “sustainable” house, apartment or city design? How? Why? Where? What would you grow? Who would take care of it?
If you live in an urban area, students can research the benefits and challenges of creating urban gardens, then interview Spanish-speaking participants. If it’s not possible to do so locally, you could contact one of the above organizations and conduct an interview over Skype or by e-mail. What did they grow? How? Why? Was it successful? (This could be a good chance to discover choices shaped by culture and climate.)
You or your students could create an urban garden. Here’s a simple version: At the beginning of the next school year I’m going to grow some herbs in the window of my classroom from the Huerto de Urbano site above. When my Spanish 2s get to the unit on “health,” maybe we’ll try some of the infusions. When we cover cooking, we might find recipes that use some of the herbs. If the school garden still has calabazas, we may even go out and pick some so we can try our hand at sopaipillas. (To be continued next fall and winter!)
Of course there’s lots more to explore about urban gardens, including vertical gardens, rooftop gardens and public gardens designed to be aesthetically pleasing.