International Forum-Dialogue “Economic Models and Successful Practices in School Gardens”

When implementing your ideas, it is important to know if something similar is being done elsewhere. It gives you an opportunity to get acquainted with new experience, allows assessing your position and inspires to come up with new ideas. However, looking for such information is a long and boring process. It is much easier to get together on one platform where colleagues and like-minded people share their experiences.

The International Forum-Dialogue within the framework of the project “EU4Youth: “School Garden” for the Development of Agricultural Entrepreneurship”, financed by the European Union, has become such a platform for the third time in a row for those people majoring in developing school gardens, promoting ideas of organic farming and teaching agricultural techniques and basics of agricultural business to pupils.

The 3rd Forum-Dialogue was held on November 2-4, 2021. Its topic was economic models and successful practices in school gardens. This year, more than 80 representatives of schools from Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia have gathered to share their experiences in the implementation of school business projects and educational programmes. Choosing an online mode allowed holding such a large-scale and diverse Forum-Dialogue.

During the opening ceremony, Vladimir Shevtsov, the Project Manager, Director of the Green Cross Belarus NGO, immediately pinpointed the main challenge faced by members of the School Garden network: the dizzying speed of global changes in the economy, environment and communications.

— By introducing the principles of organic agriculture, we can achieve healthier agricultural production with minimal impact on the environment, — Vladimir Shevtsov said.  — In its turn, it can form the basis for the future sustainable development of the village.

When welcoming the forum participants, Maxim Pijevskii, the Programme Coordinator of the EU4Youth Support Team, said:  “We strongly believe in the practice of organic agriculture and agricultural entrepreneurship as means to achieve sustainable development goals. Personally, I am deeply impressed with the results achieved over the three years of the project. School gardens in each country keep developing their skills in production, agricultural management and business”.

Stefan Robinson, FAO Representative, also highlighted a few specific points indicating the importance of the transition to organic farming principles.

After the welcoming part, the participants of the Forum began working hard. While making a general overview of the Project, Vladimir Shevtsov drew attention to the fact that in three years more than 40 schools entered the School Garden network, 9 manuals were developed in 7 areas of the Project, 5 network inter-school experiments were carried out, 10 business projects were implemented, agricultural technology for growing new crops was mastered, pupils obtained the skills of agricultural labour, crafts and entrepreneurial activities as well as experience in the preparation of educational programmes for tourists.

National and local coordinators provided an overview of activities in school gardens in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova as a summary of local experiences and achievements. At the same time, each coordinator highlighted that the schools tried to make the most of the information and developments that the Project team had prepared but everyone chose their own niche. Some schools paid more attention to the cultivation and sale of fresh vegetables and fruits, others started thinking about processing, and there are some schools got more focused on handicrafts and agritourism.

Since one of the main focuses of the first day of the Forum-Dialogue was the economic models of school gardens in different countries and the presentation of the results of the competition “School Garden: from Idea to School Business", the participants were able to get acquainted with 10 school business projects that had been implemented in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine over the past year.

The first speaker was Vladimir Martynyuk, Director of Vyshevitskiy Lyceum (Ukraine), who shared his successful experience in growing feather onions. He talked about generating this idea, the greenhouse that had appeared thanks to the Project and the experiments with different types of onions and early crops. The main emphasis in his speech was made on the interest of the pupils in developing this kind of a business and their desire to master the skills of farming and entrepreneurship.

Natalia Krutchenko, Director of the Repki school, supplemented the presentation of the Ukrainian experience with some other facts. She described the path of the school “from the front garden to the greenhouse”. Only flowers had been grown before on the school site. However, thanks to the support of the Project, a greenhouse and a well appeared on the school site. The pupils mastered the agricultural technology of growing various vegetables and herbs, thought out their packaging and tried to sell their products at school and fairs.

— Currently, our pupils carry out research in the field of organic agriculture, share their experience with schools throughout the country and participate in national symposia and conferences, — Natalia Anatolyevna said. — Moreover, the proceeds received from the sale of our products are invested in the development of the school.

The Moldovan experience was represented at the Forum by Andrey Leunti, Director of Oxentia grammar school, and Galina Yurash, a representative of Grigore Vieru elementary school in Stefan Voda.  The participants of the Forum learnt from the presentation about products being grown there, the increase of labour efficiency thanks to the minitractor purchased within the framework of the Project as well as commercial success of the grammar school and prospects of its sustainable development.

— The School garden in our grammar school make us original in comparison with a lot of other educational institutions in our country that do not possess agricultural territories, — Andrey Leunti said. — Here, the pupils can put into practice the theoretical knowledge they have gained in the field of organic farming.

The team of Grigore Vieru elementary school (Stefan Voda) decided on the direction of work after a trip to Belarus in 2019. They made up their mind that they were going to be engaged in production of flowers and greenery, and started experimenting with forcing tulips and hyacinths for the spring holidays. Currently, the pupils not only grow flowers and take care of them but also collect and dry herbs, make herbal teas, grow flowers for front gardens and bouquets. According to Galina Yurash, thanks to this activity, the pupils became very responsible toward their attitude to the environment as well as very demanding of healthy nutrition both for themselves and their parents.

The speeches aroused a keen interest of the participants. During the Q&A session, Olga Balakhnina, the expert, asked the speakers how the pupils’ interest in activities in the school garden changed in the course of work. A very detailed answer was given by Vladimir Martynyuk, Director of Vyshevitskiy Lyceum, where it all began with the emergence of an elective course “Entrepreneurship” which managed to appeal to the pupils of the 10th grade. After attending the course classes which took place both in the school greenhouse and at the partner University “Zhytomyrskaya Politekhnika”, the pupils themselves began talking about what they had learnt, what they had visited, thereby motivating other pupils to choose this course and work in the greenhouse. Currently, not only senior pupils are interested in this topic but also pupils of secondary and even elementary schools at Lyceum.

Another expert Vitold Zenkovich conducted an express coach session to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a business project. The director of Vyshevitskiy Lyceum again volunteered.  The questions asked by the expert were probably taken into account by all the Forum participants.

The second part of the session on November 2 was devoted to the Belarusian business projects implemented during the competition “From Idea to School Business” initiated in the project in 2021. The session was started by the “Blueberry Farm” project of Zalesskaya school. The purpose of this project was to grow and sell blueberry seedlings. In the course of its implementation, a new nursery site was equipped, blueberry seedlings were purchased, the technology of growing seedlings was mastered, and a good rapport was established with a local store. The project turned out to be quite successful from a commercial point of view. However, the experts drew attention to the fact that the pedagogical component in this project was not sufficiently developed.

A similar project, “Blooming Business”, was presented by representatives of Luzhkovskaya school. Its idea was to grow flower seedlings for front gardens and flower beds. In the course of the work, the pupils learnt about ways of growing seedlings of various ornamental plants, worked out sales and promotion channels but did not take into account the factor of local competition, which resulted in the very low profit of the project.  However, the school is already aware of how to reduce costs to develop this business initiative next year.

The pupils of Borovikovskaya school tried to grow snails.  The project purchased and provided to the school a broodstock, equipped a site for summer “grazing” and even agreed with a cafe in Svetlogorsk on the sale of products. However, due to the hot summer, not all the plans were realised.  Nevertheless, the broodstock was preserved, and even snail caviar was obtained.

The project of Slobodkovskaya school extended the previous experience in the cultivation of aromatic herbs and production of herbal teas. When implementing the project, the pupils mastered the technology of fermentation of rosebay willowherb, experimented with various additives such as apples, raspberries and cherry leaves, developed new packaging, worked out sales channels, and determined that the most profitable way to sell was at local fairs.

Iolchanskaya school tried to master another new direction - the cultivation of table grape varieties.  According to the project manager, it was not an easy task. Nevertheless, an experimental site was laid out, seedlings were planted, trellises were installed, and regular classes for pupils were organised on the site.  Unfortunately, weather conditions and lack of experience did not allow obtaining significant results. However, the work will be continued.

The day ended with a very “tasty” production project - “Yurtsauskiya Patsalunki-Pachastunki”. Its goal was to create a mini production facility and develop options for selling healthy snacks and sweets from vegetables, berries and fruits. In the course of the implementation, a studio for making products was equipped, recipes were selected, the pupils mastered the technology of drying various fruits, developed packaging and studied sales channels. It is also planned to master new types of products and work out the legal aspects related to the implementation of a business idea.

More interesting experience and successful practices were presented on the second day of the forum. Participants from Braslav district of Vitebsk oblast spoke about the organisation and implementation of educational programmes for local residents, tourists, city guests and fair visitors. Expert Anna Vygonnaya and teachers from several schools presented their experience in developing and conducting interdisciplinary games-lessons “Adventures of Plants”, “The Map of My Village” and “A Journey to Iolcha”. The manager of the experimental direction Natalya Svyatkina presented a brief overview of the work on growing unusual crops for Belarus such as watermelons, melons, asparagus, okras, artichokes and sweet potatoes. By the way, the topic of experiments was continued the next day by the thematic coordinator Vladimir Pustoshilo. In his speech, he presented the results of experiments on the cultivation of cabbage, onions, organic seedlings and the application of organic methods of plant cultivation.  Tatiana Nikolaenko, a regional expert from Gomel oblast, presented the topic of social beds as the first experience of running their own farm.

During the afternoon session, there was a real kaleidoscope of practices. Colleagues from Russia shared their experience in holding a business game for fish farming in Krasnodar oblast, developing research skills for pupils that majored in agriculture, organising the work of the Small Academy of Agriculture of Yakutia. Moreover, they presented their experience in growing crops in different climatic conditions by using various agricultural technologies, and organizing continuous profiling in agricultural professions. Teachers from Belarus in their speeches covered the importance of working in a school garden for the upbringing and development of eco-literacy among pupils as well as the work on collecting local history materials and developing excursions to school gardens.

Despite the significant time difference with some regions, all the participants of the Forum stayed until the end of the day and were very encouraged by everything they saw and heard during the sessions.

The final day of the Forum was devoted to plans for the coming year. The Ukrainian project team together with Vladimir Verbitskiy, Director of the National Ecological and Naturalistic Centre in Kiev, spoke about the potential of the centre as a coaching base for teachers where a special classroom had already been equipped for classes in agricultural fields as well as a network of teachers and institutions had been formed. It would undoubtedly contribute to a wider dissemination of the experience of the School Garden project in Ukraine.

The Belarusian team announced distance courses on organic farming for teachers and students, the next enrollment for which was planned in November. Moreover, it also showed presentation, educational and communication capabilities of the School Garden web platform.

According to representatives of all country teams of the project, information technology could help solve one more task which was planned for the coming year. Study tours, which are difficult to conduct in a regular face-to-face format due to the pandemic, can be organized virtually. An example of such tours was the presentation by Aurel Serdeshnyuk, the director of the Centre of Best Practices in Horticulture and Agricultural Technologies in Tsaul (Moldova). He demonstrated how pupils, youth and teachers from different places could “visit” greenhouses and playgrounds in school gardens thanks to modern technology.

When summing up all the covered material during the Forum, the Project Manager Vladimir Shevtsov noted that one of the main tasks of the final stage of the project was to strengthen the collaboration between the school, the community and citizens. In order to achieve this goal, the project plans to organise more study tours, support open days at schools as well as fairs and educational programs for tourists, stimulate the emergence of startups, continue to promote the School Garden brand and form a network.

All the upcoming events can be found on the official website of the project

This publication has been produced with the support of the European Union and the Green Cross International. Responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the public organization “Green Cross Belarus”, and it can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union and Green Cross International.