GCD Community Engagement – GreeNIST Rooftop Garden

If I were to say that I am a gardener, you might think I am dishonest. Living in an urbanized city, skyscrapers can been seen wherever you look. It is now nearly impossible to have a green patch of land for you to grow your own food on. Even if you do have this land, the garden is mostly likely maintained by a full time gardener.  However, I have to tell you that I am actually a gardener; but not just any gardener, a rooftop gardener.

The GreeNIST rooftop garden officially started 2011. It was spearheaded by a group of teachers and student who thought that it was a great idea to have a rooftop garden on the secondary roof. It used to be just a concrete wasteland but with a year of work, the team has now transformed it into a rooftop garden.

I would go onto the roof garden every Friday. However, when many people hear the word “gardening”, a lot of negative connotations comes along with it. People think gardening as planting seeds and watering the soil and waiting, perhaps even watching, the seeds grow. But these are just part of our gardening routine. In addition, gardening is a science. and there are so many different things required to run a garden that if you don’t try it for yourself you won’t know what they involve.

I am a carpenter.

When we were starting the garden we had to build beds to house the soil and plot the seeds. We got a donation of around 15 wooden Ikea pallets for us start to building the beds with. The pallets were very hard to take apart. It took a lot of practicing to get it done. After taking them apart, we had to make the beds themselves. This is where, if I can say, I learned how to use a hammer properly. At first I hit my thumb a few times but soon my hand eye coordination improved and I was able to nail my first nail into the structure. It was quite an accomplishment. This skill would to use in the future as it is one of the basic skills of life.

I am an engineer.

As the garden grew, quite a few problems started to show. Our philosophy up on the roof is “fail and try again”. We would experiment with different ideas to solve different problems and finally find ways to improve our products. This cycle of creating and reflecting would continue until we are satisfied with the product. I was set with creating a watering system for the garden. As the number of beds have increased from nothing to 30, watering them has become an hour long task. Human resources were much more useful to perform other jobs rather than standing and watering plant beds. The plan was to connect every bed up with an elaborate system of pipes so that just by turning on the taps the beds would get watered. This original system used a hose piping. But soon it proved that this was not a good idea as there was a buildup of algae inside the pipe which eventually clogged the pipes. So currently we are in the process of replacing these old pipes with new PVC pipes which wouldn’t have this problem. This is how problem solving works at the garden, through trial and error.

Through this gardening experience, not only did I learn a lot myself, but others benefited from my experience as well. A lot of elementary children have visited the garden as the garden provides a very great place to teach children about the source of their food. It is quite shocking to hear that a lot of children today do not know where their food actually comes from. So I believe through this garden, children can learn about how things grow and not turn a blind eye on the back bone of our world.

The rooftop garden is an officially registered service group at NIST, so we do a lot of things to benefit our community. One of these things is that we provide the community with fresh, organically grown vegetables every day. I believe this is the best service that a service group can do. As most service groups are focusing on issues outside the boarders of our school, there is rarely any group that caters to the wellbeing of student, teachers, parents and staff of our own community. When people buy our produce, they can be sure that it is 100% free of pesticide and there will be no harm to them when eating it. Not only do we sell freshly grown food, we also sell seeds to the community and encourage people to grow their own food at home. When we have big morning sells, there is this one thing that sells partially well with children. It is what we call the “mystery flower”. We have planted some flower seeds into a small flower pot and we would sell the pots to the children and ask them to grow the flower themselves. Parents are always supportive with this idea because it would not only teach children about care and nurture but also provide an opportunity for the child to practice carrying for a living thing.

Apart from our gardening work, we also advocate a waste free environment. We do not use plastic when selling our produce, but instead we use old newspaper. We would collect kitchen scrap from the cafeteria every day and place it into the compost pile of our garden so the organic waste can later be reintroduced back into our gardens. Used plastic milk bottles are made into small wicking beds which are then sold back into the community. All of these small things that we do add up could make a big difference to the community.



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