The schoolyard, that fertile soil

Récolter dans sa cour… d’école!
  • Récolter dans sa cour… d’école!
  • Les saules forment un enclos naturel entre la rue et l’espace potager. Photo : Nalitha T. Paradis
The schoolyard, that fertile soil

In creating the Base Camp of the 1000 Days for the Planet mission, Space for Life launched a movement for biodiversity. The ambassadors, people who decided to make public the action that they’re taking for the planet, are so inspiring that we wanted to share their story with you. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired and become an ambassador yourself!

Walk on some sweet-smelling wood mulch. Pass under a living green archway made of willows. Play on the earth. Eat fruit straight off the tree. Where? In the schoolyard! The dream of a space where plant life little by little re-stakes its claim on the asphalt was something that Yann Vergriete actually made come true, and he’s been watching it develop for seven years now.

A seed sown in primary school

When his son started Guy Drummond primary school seven years ago, Yann couldn’t help feeling nostalgic about his own childhood in Switzerland. In Neuchâtel county, 15 minutes was all it took on a bike or even on foot to find the hills, the small forests and the space that are ideal for discovering nature. “It was things like that that left a mark on me,” he relates, “and that led me to a general attachment to nature.”

In the stretch of asphalt in his children’s schoolyard, Yann saw fertile ground for a greening project. “This has to change,” he said to himself. Armed with that conviction, Yann joined the green committee and started imagining a space in which the exploration of biodiversity was possible once again around the school.

Willows planted by little hands

A bit at a time, the yard came back to life: hedges with small toxic fruit were removed by brave volunteer parents, trees were planted by a landscaping firm, and salvaged thuyas and tulips proved to be the finishing touches. Then, a donation of willow-bush stems suddenly changed the situation. It was at that moment that the students became the artisans of this joyous plant chaos in the making. “I told myself that if the kids weren’t involved in the revegetation of their yard, then they wouldn’t have the same respect for it.” Every year a few classes discover biodiversity at a workshop organized by Yann, then plant their seedlings in their own yard. Thus they have the enjoyment of seeing them grow and of tasting the fruits of their labors, especially in the case of the kitchen garden and the orchard that have been set up over the last three years.

A bulb for the cause

For the sixth-grade end-of-year trip, the young urban apprentice farmers planted garlic last fall. The result? The bulbs tripled in size and were harvested. Currently in their drying period, they’re hung up like tasty garlands on the wall adjacent to the kitchen at Yann’s place. Soon they’ll be sold to parents as a fundraiser. “It’s a matter of solidarity, since it’s not necessarily the students who plant in the fall who’ll be the ones who harvest the following year.” And thus are values sown.

Passing the torch

The schoolyard is also a point of attraction for the neighbors who’ve watered it during the early years, running their hoses along the street. And it’s a delight for the school caretaker, who adds a tomato to his basket… And it’s a vocation for nature lovers, like Yann. In two years, when his own children are no longer going to this school, Yann will pass the torch. Damien, a collaborating parent, was there at our interview. “I work as a computer specialist, so this isn’t my area. But ever since I’ve been able to lend a hand, I go, and it makes me happy.”

The project instigator isn’t too worried about the future. “People often talk about doing urban agriculture, but they always forget that the city is located in nature, and nature resumes its place quite spontaneously when we give it the freedom to do so…”

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