Herstory Matters: The Origins of the Dirt Girls Program

It’s especially meaningful for me to share the story of growing Dirt Girls at start of Women’s History Month. Pictured below are two girls from the last cohort of a “pandemic proof” version of the program offered last spring alongside a journal entry from one of the original Dirt Girls participants.

“I appreciate outdoors and gardening because I live in an apartment that has a tiny patio, so when I go to dirt girls it is a chance for me to develop the knowledge of gardening and science.” DiRT GiRLS participant, 2017

In 2016, I began a program that I whimsically called “Dirt Girls.” The initial impetus was maintaining a school garden–planting, clearing, harvesting, and enjoying nature. The program quickly grew into a very special, safe place for girls to explore their science identities. The program has been planting empowerment ever since.

Over the following two years, the Dirt Girls grew into a strong group who loved engaging in garden tasks, practicing scientific habits of mind, and becoming dynamic and motivated young women. We participated in service learning, took field trips & hosted community events. In June of 2020, we bid a virtual farewell to four fifth grade girls who had been in the program since they were 2nd graders.

In 2018, a dad at the school where Dirt Girls started asked the principal when there would be an after school garden program that included boys. Against my preference, I changed the name to Dirt Kids for a year. Participation dropped and that dad’s son was the only boy who joined. By the end of the year, the garden was a weedy mess. In 2019 I restored the name Dirt Girls. It will remain a program explicitly rooted in equity. 

Without access to schools as a result of the pandemic, I developed a virtual program dubbed Dirt Girls Grow Indoors. I sourced houseplants and had them delivered to kids’ homes and then offered virtual programming on Zoom four times a week. We explored air plants, succulents, ferns, and terraria. Each month a new module also focused on cultivating resilience: learning to breathe, reduce stress, exercise our bodies and be creative. Although it was a bit of a departure from the outdoor version of the program, Dirt Girls Grow Indoors met the same goal: inspiring dozens of girls to pursue science as a career path, but also learning to care for herself, others, and the world. 

By April of 2021, we were able to gather in person at the Martha Walker Native Habitat Garden in Skyline Park. Field trips are an aim of the program I hope to revive going forward. Research tells us that time spent in nature can increase affinity for science. It can be a gateway to science careers. This program will always be grounded in nature

As of just a few weeks ago, I’ve secured a location for Dirt Girls. Starting in mid-April, we’ll be meeting at a centrally located high school where two teachers and a dozen students could use more hands to maintain their campus gardens. In this new space, we’ll have the benefit of working with older garden mentors who want to engage in community service. The school is located across the street from the food bank, so we’ll grow some crops to donate there. We’ll also start a seed garden, plants grown for the purpose of collecting, harvesting, and sharing seed. We’ll tend to the native plants, maintain compost, and start pollinator gardens. 

Published by The School Garden Doctor

Established in 2018 to sustain school gardens in the 21st century.

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