Germantown: An Awbury Arboretum Education

Awbury Arboretum main entrance]

Few automatically think of a 55-acre setting as a giant school of sorts. But that is what happens at the Awbury Arboretum. This green space  located in Germantown at One Awbury Road off of Chew Avenue is a setting that offers educational and community activities for children and adults. The arboretum land is site to many different educational and nature programs that enrich the lives of its visitors and volunteers, said Karen Anderson, Executive Directory of the Arboretum. Awbury occupies land that was first set-aside in 1917 when it was given to the Philadelphia Parks Association by a local wealthy family.

Awbury Arboretum main entrance

The arboretum hosts several agricultural programs on land off of Washington Lane, referred to as the Agricultural Village. Anderson said that besides the Community Gardens, which have been in use for over 40 years, there is a Family Farm Garden and two and one-half acres of land cultivated by Weaver’s Way cooperative. The Weaver’s Way agricultural farm grows produce for a co-op and for sale at farmers’ markets.

It is also the site of Awbury Arboretum’s one-third acre children’s garden. Clay Lloyd, the outreach coordinator of the Education Department, said the children’s garden produces vegetables, and some are given to the Reformation Lutheran Church, which supplies food to area food pantries and soup kitchens.

The Farm Garden is expanding, according to Lloyd. There is a circular pizza garden producing the ingredients for sauce, tomatoes, peppers, oregano, and basil. Several additional gardens have been added, such as the salsa garden, the dyers garden with natural plants used to dye clothes, and the new rainbow carrots garden. “[It has] carrots that are purple, black, red, white, orange and yellow…all edible,” said Lloyd.

In hands-on lessons the children learn the basics of gardening. The children are taught are the stages of growing food, “How to dig, how to plant, how to water, the cycle of food,” said Lloyd.

Another farm series lesson teaches children to be aware of where their food comes from. “You get this apple juice, and apples come from Oregon, Washington, or they could come from China, where a lot of them come from to get the concentrate,” explains Lloyd. “It’s really measuring how that effects…global warming and all these environmental issues.”

Anderson said the Family Farm Garden began in 2007 when people became more interested in food education. The program was designed as part of an integrated curriculum with local schools that do not have land to do a garden of their own. “It really became a teaching garden and an area where kids could get their hands dirty and really experience firsthand what it was like to have a garden,” said Anderson.

Tasting and cooking what the students have grown are parts of the garden’s lesson plans. “Because they have seen it in the ground and often they’ve helped harvest it, they’ll be a little more adventurous when it comes to food,” said Anderson.

The Awbury Arboretum also provides a Field Studies program offering environmental educational lessons. The Awbury Arboretum Annual Report for 2008-2009 provides statistics on the various programs. It states that the program served 1,143 students and 440 teachers and chaperones during the 2008-2009 school year.  Twenty-nine schools from the local area participated in the environmental education lessons.

The summer months of July and August are exciting times at the arboretum. Children from summer day camps and day care centers visit the arboretum as part of the Summer Nature Program. In 2009, more than 1000 children and 206 chaperones enjoyed learning lessons about topics such as recycling and papermaking, and how plants are used for dyes. Similar to the other youth educational programs, the visitors had the experience of working in the vegetable gardens.

Awbury Arboretum

The educational programs are funded through organizational and private donations. The published 2008-2009 financial information for Awbury Arboretum and City Parks Association of Philadelphia showed that the cash and grants received in 2009 decreased 45 to 80 percent from 2008 levels.

Another educational program, the Apprentice Program has undergone several major changes since it began in 1998. Anderson said that it was originally a program for homeless men and for women who were transitioning from welfare to work. The participants learned landscaping skills in preparation for paid employment with contractors. In 2005, the program changed and enrolled young adults, ages 18 to 25. They learned similar landscaping skills and about caring for plants.

The Apprentice Program ended in 2009 because of funding problems, but the arboretum is planning to work with other organizations running similar programs such as the Scattergood Foundation and its job-training program.

We will still get the experience of working with young individuals starting out in landscaping and gardening,” said Anderson. “We just won’t be running the program ourselves.

“Most of the activities that take place over at the farm garden are funded by foundations,” said Anderson, referring to the financial need to support the arboretum’s infrastructure. “We have a number of foundations, mostly located in Philadelphia and Camden, because it takes irrigation, and it takes soil amendments, and it takes seeds and seedlings in addition to the labor that is required to run it.

The arboretum relies on the help provided by volunteers. Since 2008, motivated youth from area schools who are interested in agriculture are able to work at Awbury Arboretum as part of service learning projects. In 2009, a total of 375 students and 66 adults from area schools and City Year, part of AmeriCorps, participated in service learning at the arboretum. The arboretum hopes to expand the service-learning program for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year.

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