Gardening Know How Sponsorship Winner: West Genesee High School ECOS Club

The ECOS Club of the West Genesee High School in New York was a winner of one of Gardening Know How's annual sponsorship awards in 2019.

Christopher Paoli, a high school teacher of biology, chemistry and a college-level environmental class, is the founder and advisor for the ECOS Club. Together with the ECOS Club student members, Chris drew up plans for building a garden in the high school's 11,000 square foot courtyard. So far, the Club has installed bird feeders and erected seeding tables. They've staked out an area for native plants that will attract pollinators, and they installed feeders in their designated bird area.

It turns out this will be much more than just a simple vegetable garden. To make the project more inclusive, the club members thought about ways the garden would not only be a valuable learning experience for students, but could be a haven for people of all ages.

Earlier this year, work was underway and plans were drawn up for raised garden beds and benches. The club plans to tap the high school's shop and tech classes to construct them. Students in the school's ceramics class will be fashioning a birdbath for the courtyard garden, while custodial staff will handle the inevitable weeding and mowing. The majority of the planning, planting and harvesting will be led by ECOS members, with Chris at the helm. Club members will film every step of the project to describe their process, the motivation behind it, its successes and failures, and what they've learned.

Art students created this rendering of how the gardens will look.

Four elementary schools in the West Genesee district have gardening clubs that will be invited to tour the gardens for learning sessions. Chris has in mind a 5-step activity program for young students, which will include tasting, smelling and feeling the plants with closed eyes - a wonderful initiation to get them excited about gardening.

In addition to vegetable beds, native plants and flowers, the garden will feature comfortable areas for reading, studying and relaxing. Another brilliant idea is a photo space with a beautiful natural backdrop where students can take pictures in the garden, and even have their school photos taken. There are plans in place for a walkway, and the school's art classes will be painting a mural along the walls of the courtyard.

The club will be soliciting donations from the community for supplies like mulch, soil, seeds and fertilizer. A few organizations in area are interested in incorporating native plants into the garden. Using its laser engraver, the school's technology department devised an ECOS Club logo. The club even has an Instagram address, @westgeneseeecos. Chris and the club plan to donate the bulk of their harvests to local a food pantry as their way to give back to the community.

A nearby college in Syracuse teaches environmental sustainability that includes a farming unit. Chris envisions some of that curriculum being incorporated into the ECOS Club's teaching component. So, why are we describing this incredible project in the future tense?

The pandemic of 2020 has placed a hold on the plans that Chris and his students have worked so hard to develop. The school is only currently attended in person on a strict alternating schedule, with Wednesdays reserved for deep cleaning.

Like all of us, Chris Paoli hopes we'll soon be seeing better times, and that the West Genesee High School will see their school garden come to fruition in 2021. Until then, their plans and ideas continue to grow, patiently, in the minds of Chris and his ECOS Club members. Gardening Know How is proud to be a part of seeing this vision come to life.

Caroline Bloomfield
Manager of Marketing Communications

Caroline Bloomfield is Manager of Marketing Communications at Gardening Know How since 2019. A northwest native, she has resided and gardened in multiple zones in the U.S. and is currently at home in Eugene, Oregon. Writing and editing for various publications since 1998, her BA in American Studies from Southern Maine University includes an emphasis in English. She was raised in California by avid gardeners and continues to enjoy the natural world with an appreciation for the concepts of sustainability and organic care for the planet.