Part of the permaculture garden at Cache Creek Elementary School. Students are now looking for local volunteers to help the space become a garden for the community. (Photo credit: Cache Creek Elementary School)

Part of the permaculture garden at Cache Creek Elementary School. Students are now looking for local volunteers to help the space become a garden for the community. (Photo credit: Cache Creek Elementary School)

Cache Creek students turn ‘weed field’ into permaculture garden

Local volunteers now being sought to turn space into a garden for the whole community

Over the last four years, a “weed field” behind Cache Creek Elementary School has been transformed into a permaculture garden, and volunteers are now being sought to assist with maintaining the garden so that it can become a community food garden.

Dave Dumont, who teaches Division 4 (Grades 3/4), says that he started the garden with his class in 2018.

“The school district was really focusing on the idea of land-based learning, and that led to me exploring permaculture.We had this unused area behind the school with no irrigation, and it was kind of a weed field. [Then principal] Brooke Haller let us have free rein over it.”

Dumont explains that permaculture is a method of gardening in which nature is used as a design.

“If you go out in the forest, you see that no one goes out there and waters it or caretakes it. Permaculture is looking at ways that plants and animals work in harmony with each other, and we try to re-create that with companion plants. Before you dig you observe, and get to know how a space works and then use that to your advantage. If water flows a certain way then you want to capture that energy.

“We do a lot of experimenting and observing, and a lot doesn’t work. But you use nature as a model to design companion plantings, and you get the land to where you’re producing more than you’re taking, and it becomes self-sustaining.”

Dumont uses the First Nations “three sisters” technique to explain companion planting. “It’s squash, corn, and beans. The squash mulches the ground, and the corn is the stalk that the beans grow up.”

The students were dirt farmers the first year, says Dumont, trying to rebuild the soil. They visited the composting program at Cook’s Ferry and got a composter and did some mulching. Since then they’ve added more beds, and high school students at Desert Sands School built a rain catchment system that the students have been experimenting with. Last year they created a medicine garden with the help of some Elders, and have introduced an animal element through the “Rent the Chicken” program.

Certified Permaculture Land Designer Shelaigh Garson has been helping along the way. She does a consultation with the students at the beginning of every season, where they talk about what they want to do and how to expand the program. By partnering with the South Cariboo Elizabeth Fry Society, they have been able to bring Garson out for a series of talks to the students, and she will be back to support them this year.

In the past, Dumont says he has been able to come in and look after the garden over the summer. “It’s been enjoyable and I like doing it, but the whole point is that it needs to be a community space, not just something hidden at the back of the school.”

To that end, he’s now looking to drum up some community support so that the project can be run as a community garden, with volunteers coming in outside school hours and over the summer to help look after it.

“I’ve had some interest in it already. It’s very much in the development stage, but we’re looking to form a committee so people have a vested interest in it. This project has turned into a learning space for Division 4 and any other teachers who want to go out and use it, but we’re at the point now where I need more entities on board if we’re going to expand it further and look at turning it over to the community.”

Dumont says that while the garden can be about food security, it can also be about other things, because it is ever-changing, depending on the students he gets every year.

“That’s one of the cool things about the garden. This year’s kids want an imagination garden where they can play. I thought ‘It’s not food,’ but we need to feed our souls as well. I start by letting them go wild with their imagination, and then whittle it down. I think it will turn into a pollinator garden, because they’re really interested in colours. In permaculture, everything does a job.”

Other classes participate, but Dumont’s students are the main catalyst, and he says that they take ownership of the space and have a real sense of pride in it. He also notes that he has a mix of students each year, from farm kids to ones who have no experience with growing things.

“Some of these kids will be farmers when they grow up, and a lot of the farming around here is industrial. This kind of gardening isn’t about that. If we can teach concern for the environment at this age I’m hoping it might stick with them when they’re the ones farming and producing food.”

As for students who have no experience with growing things, Dumont says that they can see the entire growing cycle from beginning to end, which creates more respect for the food we eat.

“We’ve just started growing tomato seeds, and I told them that everything the tomato needs to know is in this tiny seed. It shows them the amount of effort it takes to grow our food.”

Dumont says that for volunteers, the garden can be many things.

“The Butterflyway people have reached out, and some people might want to experiment with water conservation. It can be a space where a lot of different things are happening at once and serve a lot of different purposes. Anyone who’s interested is welcome, whether it’s people who want to learn that kind of gardening, or experiment, or try their hand at it because they don’t have space.

“If people want to come and let it feed their soul, that’s fine. There’s room for all levels of engagement. I’m hoping that it will serve as a space they love as well.”

Anyone who would like more information about the permaculture garden and volunteering can contact Dumont at (250) 457-7389.

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