Social Beds – the First Step Toward Personal Farm

Pupils from some schools in Gomel oblast began running their own subsidiary plots on the school grounds last year. Social beds is the name of this initiative which appeared as part of the International Green Cross SocMed Programme. Its idea is that interested children get their own small allotment of land on which they can grow something for themselves. A prerequisite is that the children take care of the plants themselves, and as a result, they get the entire yield from their beds.

The Social Gardens are an extension of the work begun under the EU4Youth Project:  "School garden" for the Development of Agricultural Entrepreneurship”, funded by the European Union and co-financed by Green Cross International. The main difference is that the social beds are personal, while the work is carried out within the framework of the project on the public school grounds.

The first children to cultivate their social beds were pupils of 5th-7th grades of Iolchanskaya, Mikulichskaya, Maleikovskaya and Malozhinskaya secondary schools of Bragin district. There were 10 such pioneers from the Iolchanskaya school.

“Of course, they got help and were taught by adults: teachers and technical staff,” shares the director of Iolchanskaya school Tatiana Nikolaenko. “All beds in the open field”. On their 4-square-meter bed, the children had cucumbers, onions, carrots, beets, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, corn and watermelons, of course.  A little bit of everything.

Thanks to the work on their beds, the children not only learn how to take care of the plants (to sow correctly, transplant, observe the watering regime) but also notice which plants are better adjacent to others, how to feed and protect the plants without chemicals. Thus, the pupils get their first experience in organic farming and get acquainted with the basics of vermiculture.

In 2020 the children took their first harvest home, which helped their families to replenish supplies for the winter and made their nutrition more vitaminous and healthy. Considering that these children are mostly from vulnerable families, it was a good contribution to a family well-being.

Before the start of the new season in 2021, the children from Iolcha (the village of  Krasnoe) themselves began asking the director if they would have an opportunity to work on social beds. After looking at their peers and their successes, other pupils of 5th-8th grades expressed their desire to work on their own beds. By the way, there were children not only from Iolcha but also from other villages, e.g. from Asarevichi, who wanted to participate in the activity.

“This year they followed me constantly. They caught me on weekends and asked when the sowing season would start”, says Tatyana Ivanovna.  There were 16 people who wanted to work. Everyone wanted two beds of vegetables for themselves. Therefore, there are 32 beds this year on the first site in the open field. On the second site, the children will have a row of melons of about 15 meters. The children also have three greenhouses of ten meters each where they will grow tomatoes and cucumbers until late autumn.

Those, who worked on social beds last year, already know everything. For instance, when it was the right time to plant cucumbers, the children themselves took out the seedlings, dug holes carefully without damaging the root system, pulled the cucumbers out of the cups, planted and watered them. Some even help and give advice to other gardeners-freshmen.

“We begin to love the land, acquire practical skills and knowledge of working on the land.  This is a groundwork for the future”, concludes Tatyana Ivanovna.

The children already plan not only to bring this harvest home,but also to try to sell something at fairs. Some have set themselves a goal of growing better crops than their parents at home.

Unfortunately, not all the schools that organized social beds in 2020 continued this initiative for various reasons. Nevertheless, the example of Iolchanskaya and Mikulichskaya schools, which for two years in a row have been giving their pupils an opportunity to grow their own crops, has inspired schools from other districts of the oblast to join the initiative. It is likely that social beds and greenhouses will also appear in  Dubrovskaya and Borovikovskaya schools of Svetlogorsk district next year.