Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April Garden in Pictures

Amazing colours - Hydrangea

Lavender always attracts bees to the garden.

White Hollyhocks - great self-propagators.

Strawberries will grow until May in Adelaide

Plum Espalier - now at the top beam level

Another giant sunflower soon to open...and grow some more.

A mix of sunflower types at different stages.

Deep in my flower garden.

Leeks have sprung.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

School Garden Sub-Committee: What to expect

So you're considering whether you should join a gardening committee? I am a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to gardening, but I find it completely infectious and a brilliant use of time that is worth encouraging others to also try. And this is what has led me into the crazy world of a school gardening sub-committee.

This is my first year on a both a sub-committee and the school governing council, so my learning curb has been a fast and furious one. For me, they have to go hand-in-hand in order to achieve my vision for our local primary school. I want my kids to enjoy gardening and the fun that goes with an outdoors class where they can really see results and then finally enjoy them in cooking class.

Our sub-committee is a combination of garden, kitchen (cooking class) and chickens. We found that was the best mix that works best together. We wanted to include the canteen, but canteen could not envisage how they could feed the children complete regular meals, so canteen decided to partner with fundraising instead. There are so many different combinations to suit every school community.

So here are a few things I have learnt that might help you to make that decision get involved with your local community. We need all the help, drive and vision we can get to make a great future:

How are committees arranged?
Every school or community group will have a different formula for their committees, such as bunching together similar activities that support one another.

Do you have to join the School Governing Council to be on a Sub-Committee?
No, not at all. The only requirement is that the leader or other elected member of the sub-committee must give a presentation to the school governing council at the AGM to explain the vision and achievements of the the sub-group - this includes asking for permission (the biggy - a job I do personally). All members of a sub-committee are not required to attend AGMs, but are expected at all sub-committee meetings.

How are Working Bee days organised?
The principal will call the date during the governing council AGM. The jobs you would like done during the working bee must be submitted to the principal a week before. You need an agreed list from your sub-committee. Every job needs to be assessed for Occupational Health & Safety (it is now a legal requirement).

How are members recruited?
The newsletter is the best place to start, but I also encourage a follow-up flyer to go out to all families/classes with a tear-off form to prompt action. Families that volunteer are the true driving force and we want to give them a voice in their community for a sense of ownership and belonging.

Approach teachers and volunteers that are already in that community, such as the cooking class teacher, the gardening teacher, and any teacher or front office member who is responsible for any animals on the school grounds that contribute to the garden in some form, such as cultivation and manures.

How often should a gardening Sub-Committee meet?
To start the year, there are very frequent meetings so that the garden gets a good start. Once a fortnight is a good guide. An hour is sufficient time for a meeting to last.

In Australia, when school restarts for the year we are in summer, but most of our garden is not planted until autumn. If you think that is a long time, then yes it is, because sub-committees need permission from governing council to achieve their intended goals. There is a lot of back and forth between committees which is the most frustrating part.

Does the Sub-Committee get their own budget?
Yes, there should always be a budget for every sub-committee. If you are unsure that one exists or how much is actually available, make an appointment with the school principal to get that information. The school is responsible for reimbursement of any expenditure that you incur that directly benefits the school physically such as the purchasing of seeds and punnets.

How do I get my money reimbursed from the school?
A school or community group will have the necessary paper work for you to fill out, but you must have receipts for everything you have purchased. Once both the paperwork and receipts have been submitted to front office its a matter of waiting for the cheque to arrive in the mail.

Does the Sub-Committee need to buy everything?
No, not everything. Of course every little bit helps in order to achieve goals that are time based, but many things like the ordering of soil and watering systems will be done by the school principal. They will take what they need from the budget direct to pay for those things. It is worthwhile enquiring regularly how much is left in your sub-committee's budget throughout the year so that you do not exceed it.

Do the members of the sub-committee have to pick-up orders?
Yes and no. Sometimes there are volunteers in the school community who are happy to do the fetch and carry, especially if their car has a tow bar. Many parents have contacts in the wider community that are happy to also donate things to the school like manure, so they would load that onto a trailer themselves and bring that to the school. Delivery trucks are usually costed into the final prices, so not all physical items need to be picked up by volunteers. Volunteers make light work and are such a blessing, though.

What if I don't get enough to do in my Sub-Committee?
Ask, suggest, volunteer. Please don't keep silent. You will often find that the leaders of the group are actually more stressed than what you think, so your presence in the group is warmly welcome. If you think you have the time or talent, please speak up. It will be very much appreciated.

Are minutes taken during Sub-Committee meetings?
Yes, another job you are most welcome to volunteer for.
The minutes taker will need to be quick on the typing up and distribution of the latest meeting minutes, ensuring that they have all the right email addresses. I strongly recommend that you also give a copy to front office reception and ask them to also distribute a hard copy as back up.

A copy MUST go the principal so that they are informed of progress and jobs that need doing.

Please tell reception of the date for the next meeting which should always be the last thing written at the bottom of the minutes. The date for the next meeting should go in the school newsletter.

Make sure that the leader of the sub-committee also books a meeting room on a regular basis.

Do the sub-committee members need to go work with the kids in the garden?
Its not necessary, but school volunteers help make light work and the gardening class so much easier. Work in small groups of only 3-5 children at a time. You also get to make sure that the planting is done correctly, which can be very handy to know. Feedback to the group can be incredibly valuable through your attendance with the children.

In South Australia, you must attend an Abuse and Incident Reporting course and obtain a Police Check (DECS) prior to beginning any volunteer work. Without this clearance you will not be permitted to work directly with children in a volunteer roll within school grounds. The school will pay for your Police Check.

Do we get paid to be on a committee?
Alas, no. But you can add it to your resume!

Its ME!!! At our March 2014 School Garden Working Bee
Well, I hope that has made it a little easier for you to know how your school or community group is likely to be run and just how valuable you can be to them. Volunteers in communities across Australia are really the back bone to driving changes and creating a better future for us all. I encourage you to take the plunge and donate your time. Your gardening passion can be so inspirational.