Ocean Friendly Gardens, GAP
June 01 2015

Surfrider Teams With Education Outside To Put The “Glen” Back In Glen Park School

by Jeff Young and Paul Herzog

This spring, the San Francisco Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation completed a 6-month project to transform an underutilized, impermeable area on the campus of Glen Park Elementary School into a thriving Ocean Friendly Garden (OFG) and educational space ripe with native plants and a extensive bioswale. The location came about because Chapter Secretary & Music Outreach Program Lead Tia Mignonne's child goes to the school. Working with partners from the local affiliate of the Education Outside program, elementary school students, parents, and local volunteers, the San Francisco Chapter's OFG Program (locally known as Plant-Don't-Pave) was able to complete the project over a series of three working days called Garden Assistance Parties.

  1. Workday 1 - In the fall, a group of about 30 volunteers came out to sheet much the weeded area, which was characterized by highly compressed dirt. The sheet mulching project combined with winter rains allowed the soil to break up and rehabilitate, increasing its permeability and ability to retain water and support vegetative life.
  2. Workday 2 - Early this year came phase two of the project: installation of a bio-swale. A swale is a low point to which water flows and can be thought of as a dry creekbed; add plants for the "bio" part. Again, a dedicated group of over 30 students, parents, and volunteers came out to install the bio-swale. The bios-wale now extends the entire 100 ft length of the project site, and is able to catch and retain surface water runoff coming from the west side of campus (containing impermeable playground and lunch areas).
  3. Workday 3 - Finally, this spring, the Chapter, together with the help of community members, parents, and students, were able to the close out of the project by (a) planting a host of native plants and (b) installing a basin at the end of the bio-swale to capture any water not absorbed by the along the way. 

Education Outside's local paid staff, Mary Catherine Muniz (grey t-shirt, at right), was key with helping to coordinate the project, acquire any free materials, and participate in the workdays. The Chapter paid for materials as well as landscape design services from local landscape architect Sarah Sutton of PlaceWorks, who is the author of a book on "kicking the grass addiction."

In addition to site providing "ecoystem services" (filtering polluted runoff, using rainwater as irrigation, etc.), the San Francisco Chapter will be working with Glen Park teachers to ensure that the site continues to serve as an educational space. Chapter members will be developing some educational modules linked to this new educational space that can help students learn more about stormwater runoff and the importance of natural systems to help treat and retain this water to improve water quality downstream and in the ocean. (The Chapter may connect with Surfrider-Portland, OR volunteer and teacher, Jocelyn Gary, who has created curriculum around her school's OFG. And in California, there's curriculum called the Environmental Education Initiative, and kids learn about living soil in the 4th grade through a "de-composition notebook!")

The newly installed garden, which has become a fixture not only on campus but for the local community in Glen Park, serves as a nice entry point into the larger conversation of stormwater management in the city of San Francisco, and provides a model for residents, businesses, and other local institutions to pursue and implement for broader scale impact. And there's a chicken coop and chickens at the garden, too (at left).

Building off the success of, and fun of engaging in the Glen Park project, the chapter is scoping out opportunities to engage in other local elementary schools for next season through the Education Outside network. If you're ever in San Francisco, be sure to stop by Glen Park Elementary and check out their beautiful OFG!

(Thanks to Jeff Young, Surfrider-San Francisco OFG volunteer and Chapter Vice-Chair, for writing this post!)