Exciting Urban Agriculture Growing Above It All!Mon 28 Apr 2014
Story by Philip Branston
NIST School Rooftop farm/ garden (GreeNIST)
Over the past year at NIST International School, here in Bangkok, we have transformed a bleak, deserted concrete school rooftop into a burgeoning mini farm/rooftop garden with help and donations from staff, students and parents. Our school administration has supported us in this sustainable project from the very start, as we are not only giving students experience in urban agriculture, but also creating a business model by selling organic produce to the community, which now generates revenue to buy more equipment. Many students and staff have been involved in the process right from the beginning, and we are all excited about this “school in a farm/garden”, as it offers numerous learning opportunities and improves the well-being of the community.
We have had many obstacles to overcome due to the intense Bangkok heat, but now that we understand the local climate and soil better we are starting to see some successes. One of the goals was to build raised garden beds. We did this after a major donation of over 100 wooden pallets from a NIST parent. Staff and students dismantled each of them one by one and made them into 2 metre by 1 metre beds. As time went by, we built more and more using reclaimed wood from the old NIST Multi-purpose Hall, which was demolished to make way for a new building.
Our produce comes from a variety of seeds including heirloom seeds. These are grown in our nursery and then planted into the aforementioned beds, which comprise coconut husk bases, then soil. Currently on the roof we have varieties of eggplant, pumpkins, basil, mint, spring onions, morning glory, kale, amaranth, chillies, lemon grass, gourds, okra, yard long beans, winged beans, lime, rose apple, mango, papaya, cocoa and tomatoes. We use no chemicals, only soil, manure and mulch leaves collected from our school campus. We hold regular mini sales and are now are starting to supply produce to our canteen at NIST for school lunches.
Other projects range from a worm farm to hydroponics. We also make our own compost from school canteen food waste and we are just about to start experimenting with aquaponics and wicking beds. We will also harvest rain water into tanks when the heavens open up during the rainy season. Kind donations from the school’s parent-teachers association (NIPTA) and the NIST extra-curricular activities office have helped us get to the this point.
Learning opportunities abound in this project, and Year 9 and Year 2 students have been involved over the past few months. The first students to sign up completed green-related projects as part of their MYP personal projects and jumped at the chance to make the campus greener. We are really proud of what we have accomplished so far and we hope to pass on knowledge to other schools and the local community.
It really is possible to grow your own sustainable food supply in the city, reducing food miles and improving your diet at the same time!
Connect with NIST School Rooftop farm on Facebook and Twitter.
About the author: Philip Branston is a humanities and business teacher at NIST International School in Bangkok. With other like-minded teachers and students—including Brian Johnson, Zeyu, Ting Ting, Moe, and Khun Mee—the team has dedicated significant time and effort over the past year and a half in creating a unique school rooftop garden in the heart of one of Bangkok’s major business districts. Through environmentally friendly techniques, the team has consistently produced enough food to occasionally supply the cafeteria and local community with fresh organic produce. More importantly, the garden has provided students with opportunities to learn about the value of environmental preservation and sustainable living, fostering values that will hopefully continue to spread throughout the city.
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