Edible Schoolyard, Escuela Isaac Rabin, Ciudad del Saber, Panama City
Everyday the issue of food becomes more and more grave. As prices for ffresh produce climb, people eat worse and worse quality food, synthetic, grown with chemicals, imported from further and further away. What we eat, and where and how our food is grown no longer makes sense.
I am confident that an agroforstry based land management is a part of the solution.
Recently, I was presented with the opportunity to work in collaboration with a group of students and teachers from a school in Panama city, they are also interested in exploring solutions to these problems.
Back in mid February I was contacted through this website by Sandra Ramirez, a teacher at Escuela Isaac Rabin, located in Ciudad del Saber, just outside Panama City.
Ciudad del Saber is a government sponsored project which seeks to create a cluster of academic organizations, technology companies and non-governmental organizations, located just across the Miraflores locks in what used to be United States Army South headquarters, Fort Clayton.
Sandra was writing on behalf of a group of teachers who were in the process of structuring an interdisciplinary curriculum for the upcoming school year. Sandra: Art, Casandra Monteagudo: Nutrition and Natural Sciences, and Luz Avila: Social Sciences. One of the projects they had conceived of was to turn part of the schoolyard into a garden, and they were interested in any information I might be willing to share along those lines. It sounded like a fantastic idea and fun opportunity.
The first time I came to Panama City I was staying with a friend living in Ciudad del Saber. Like many of the former American military residential zones (Balboa, Ancon Hill, Gamboa, parts of Albrook, Clayton, among others), Ciudad del Saber is a noticeably pleasant environment; pedestrian friendly, plenty of open space, logically oriented roads with good drainage, even buried power lines and trees everywhere. These neighborhoods stand in stark contrast to the swaths of vacant skyscraper monocultures in Panama City.
Walking through the Ciudad del Saber/Clayton neighborhoods, without going far, I had identified numerous interesting plant species, an old Moringa oleifera tree that has since served as my only reliable source of seed in the country. Guanabana, sugar apple, caimito. In one area a there were old Brownea macrophylla planted along a row of houses.
All around and between most homes and buildings there is ample space for big trees, avocados and mangos are very common. All together the area holds an impressive diversity of native and exotic tree species.
However in Ciudad del Saber, more then any other neighborhood in the city, it is clear that there is still plenty of available (intended) space for more extensive planting. You could not have a better template on which to implement a functioning peri-urban, tropical agroforestry model. Not only would such a model tie in well to overarching concept behind Ciudad del Saber, (integration of education, innovation and knowledge institutions), but it would actually enable the practice of some often lofty and idealistic academic theories related to “sustainability”. .
How can we overcome the current problem of industrialized modern agriculture? Will it be possible to do so while not merely protecting existing forest biomes but planting new ones? Can we design and implement diverse, low-input, high-output, aesthetically pleasing agricultural systems that will provide fresher, better quality food, grown closer to home? How can we incorporate these systems within and around the suburban landscape?
The prospect of working with a small school in Ciudad del Saber seemed like a very interesting way to approach some of these issues with enthusiastic young people in the dynamic environment of an educational institution.
So we organized a meeting at the school, walked around the school-grounds, and further discussed the possible scope of the project.
From the first visit it became apparent that was a huge amount of plantable space both in and around the schoolyard.
Since then things have been progressing pretty well. A group of 20 students and their teachers can through Casco Viejo for a educational tour of the plant nurseries. We went over a number of edible and useful plants/trees, discussed their place of origin, cultivation requirements, uses, and so forth. The students took notes.
Since our plant nursery tour, the teachers have informed me that the students have each started weblogs, documenting their respective experience with the edible schoolyard initiative. I do not have the site addresses of these weblogs, but will link to them from this site as soon as I do.
More recently I made another visit to the school grounds and brought along some Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) and Katuk (Sauopus androgynous) cuttings, in addition to Butterfly Pea seed (Clitoria ternatea), an excellent nitrogen fixing legume. We mixed soil, planted the cuttings and seed, all to be transplanted in permanent locations once the rainy season has begun (soon).
See the pictures below, provided by Sandra Ramirez. The first two photos depict the areas where we will begin planting. The rest of the photos show some of the areas along the street and around the perimeter of the school where we’ll be able to plant larger trees. As is apparent, there is plenty of room to create a significant transformation.
Our next step will be excavating the compact, depleted soil from the areas in the first and second photos. We will mix this material with black soil and biomass collected from the neighborhood. (Every week the streets are lined with giant bags full of leaves that have been cleaned off the streets). Then we will begin planting.
I will continue to add updates on this site after each visit. See “Edible Schoolyard” category for related posts.