A garden designed and built by students at Wyoming Food for Thought

Published on: 
23 Mar 2015
Mayda V. Colon

USGBC Wyoming Chapter volunteer Mayda Colón is leading a partnership in Casper, engaging elementary school students with the design-build process and bringing a much needed garden to the community. Partners include Wyoming Food for Thought ProjectU.S. Green Building Council Wyoming Chapter, North Casper Elementary School, GSG Architecture

The idea of teaching a garden design‐build class started last summer when Jamie Purcell and I were walking around the new Wyoming Food for Thought Project facility in Casper. Wyoming Food for Thought is a non‐profit organization that provides kids with food for the weekends, and offers volunteer opportunities to our community. As executive director, there were several things Jamie wanted to improve, including the expansion of the community vegetable garden in order to provide families with a healthy diet at no cost.

I thought about the kids served by Food for Thought, and how they have to learn self-sufficiency at a young age. They need leadership skills and problem solving skills. And I thought about my own career. As an architect, I design things. Designing is problem solving. I have built my confidence by working with my hands.

Jamie and I agreed that these students could learn leadership and problem solving skills through design, and that a design‐build class was a perfect way to give the kids an opportunity to provide Wyoming Food for Thought with a garden.

In our first class I explained what we needed to accomplish in the class. Once they realized that they were going to design the project themselves, and lead adult volunteers during the building process, the kids got more excited.

During the first class we discussed spatial relationships and geometry, and began to conceptualize what we wanted in our community garden. I shared some examples and the girls worked in teams to build a model garden out of Legos. One group designed a large, highly organized garden reminiscent of some European gardens. Another design was compact and used recycled materials, and another focused on using water features. I was amazed at their imagination. My concern has always been to have my students think outside the box, but that wasn’t an issue with these girls. They are way ahead of me, and I am already learning from them.

For our second class we went to the Food for Thought site. We observed, measured and drew what we found. We discussed environmental factors such as sun exposure, shading, wind and orientation, and how these factors will affect the plants. Back in the classroom we mapped out the site and talked about what our client’s needs were and what design elements we wanted to incorporate.

The girls have started their design, and will continue to develop it as they learn. Our next class will include lessons on scale, as well as discussions about how the will be garden used and how could it change over time.