Permaculture, one swale at a time

Let’s start with a definition of permaculture, from http://www.permaculture.net, for all the newbies out there, including me.

Permaculture is a holistic approach to landscape design and human culture. It is an attempt to integrate several disciplines, including biology, ecology, geography, agriculture, architecture, appropriate technology, gardening and community building.

Guy Baldwin, Cortez Is, BC

It’s a Big Idea, an approach to gardening and life.  I have learned bits and pieces about the philosophy here and there, and even incorporated some principles.  Fellow MG Mary Prentice has taught me about fruit tree guilds–the concept of planting communities of plants around trees that fulfill different functions in the overall health of the “orchard.”  For example, we have comfrey planted around trees.  It is fast-growing plant that produces broad leaves that can be continually cut back, thus creating one’s own mulch “on site.”

This year a local permaculture-minded orchardist named Bob Riedy contacted me about volunteering in the garden.  Hooray!  I love these e-mails/phone calls.  Where do we start with additional permaculture principles, I said?  He suggested we look at where the water goes when it rains and think about how to capture it better.  We decided to build a “swale” or a trench at the base of the slope where our fruit trees sit.  With no gutters on this side of the building, the water pours down on the sidewalk, which already has little notches in it, draining water down the slope where the fruit trees are growing.

Because they study water issues in their grade, fifth graders took it on, digging the swale, measuring it, and seeding the mound with clover.

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May has been incredibly rainy, and so we’ve had many opportunities to see it in action.  You will see here that is has filled with water.  The idea is that the water will then seep in slowly to the area where the roots are, instead of draining away and out of the garden. Students were very excited to see all of the rain they “caught!”  Thanks Bob for your generous donation of time and expertise to work with our older elementary kids to teach effective and critical water conservation.

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My farm to school vacation…er, conference

Susi and I just returned from the first California Farm to School conference.  Hands down, it was the best “school” conference I’ve ever attended.  Let’s start with the location: Asilomar, a historic, sprawling complex with grand lodges and cabin/motel-ish accommodations sitting right on the dunes sweeping down to the Pacific Ocean.

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And then there was the food.  I was sad when I turned in my last meal ticket.  Locally sourced, beautifully prepared, incredibly fresh—for a conference, simply delectable.

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And then yes, there was the conference itself.  Three days of workshops and plenaries on Big Ideas (the vision of feeding all kids good food) and smaller strategies (local procurement, school gardens, curriculum ideas, farm visits.)  The room was full of passionate, interesting, committed folks, and we learned just as much from our mealtime conversations about common obstacles, stunning successes, and good ideas. One highlight was hearing Farmer Bob’s story from Redlands, California (where incidentally, I grew up.)  A 4th generation farmer, his citrus groves are still producing fruit from 100+ year old trees.  As he explained, the fruit gets sweeter…and smaller…with age.  So since the market cares mainly for “size, price and appearance” and not much for “taste,” he was lacking a market…until he began selling to school districts who were happy to put those small, tasty oranges into little hands for school lunch.  Win-win.  Kids get good food; small farms get saved.

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One night we were bused to Monterey High School where we sampled menu items from at least ten different districts who practice “California Thursday”—a school lunch sourced completely from our state. Many of the most forward thinking districts are now looking at “the center of the plate” or sourcing local, responsible proteins like Mary’s Chicken, which we sampled. Monterey High School serves fish tacos filled with fish from their own bay.  The “cafeteria” was beautiful, and they threw in a high school jazz band.  Again, bliss.

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Pictured below: companies that sell/distribute California-made pasta and grains.

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I return to my own school and community, re-invigorated to keep at the work of “all the good things that happen in school gardens.”  Thanks for following our story.

April-February Garden Tour, 2015

We’re overdue for a seasonal look around the garden.  Join me.

Golden Yarrow doing its thing, on the sides of the Kandu Gate.  This native installation was put in last year, with Art Cole, and so this is the first year we’re seeing the plants bloom.  Gorgeous.IMG_5913

Fourth grade students gathered daffodils to enter in the annual show at Town Hall.  (See here for more information.)  Another year, another fistful of blue and red ribbons.

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Prepping beds for spring plantings on a blustery day…

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Afterschool Club Jaguar students create a spring-inspired bulletin board of veggie facts, garden jokes and announcements.

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Finally, fourth grade students had a blast “decorating” the garden with annuals in all of our containers, window boxes and this cute Radio Flyer wagon.

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Things I’ve learned about teaching… and beetles

One thing I’ve learned about garden education is that there are many tasks that just do not lend themselves to large classes of students.  There simply isn’t enough space for 25 or more kids to stand around a raised bed, or have his/her own tool, or put a transplant each in the ground.  As such, I’ve stumbled upon the idea of having a large group activity that I explain and start with the entire class, often at the table in the garden (or on windy days, in the main classroom with the classroom teacher or garden volunteer supervising) and then take smaller groups to the garden to do an activity.

I’ve also learned that ladybugs are not bugs, but beetles.

Last week I combined these two bits of knowledge with the following activity with the younger elementary set.

I began with a mini-lesson on the difference between true bugs and beetles, followed by all of the astonishing facts and figures about the volume and diversity of beetles on earth.  Then I passed out a blank sheet and a template of cartoons, and the kids copied this sentence and had fun embellishing their papers with either their own designs or copies of the cartoons.

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I took smaller groups of six out to the garden for five minutes at a time to paint little lady beetles on our circle of tree stumps.  (I love whimsy in children’s gardens.)

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It was a hit!  Over the next month I will be switching out kids’ work on our garden bulletin board.  They get so excited to see their drawings on display!

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Harvest of the Month: Citrus

Our December Harvest of the month (broccoli) was still going strong in January…

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…and then we switched to “citrus” for our January-Feburary Harvest of the Month.  I put out a call to friends and colleagues “down the hill” where citrus grows, and my desk was soon buried in bags of lemons, oranges, and grapefruit.  We began to use them up by:

….making orange pomanders with whole cloves….

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..making our own “non-toxic” cleaners in the afterschool garden class to clean the tables in Club Jaguar (we steeped lemon and orange rinds in vinegar for two weeks)…

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…..creating a seasonal wreath with oven-dried citrus rings to decorate the Club Jaguar door….

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…squeezing lots of homemade lemonade…

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..playing a “memory” game with grapefruit facts…

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…enjoying “taste test” stations with blood oranges and three types of grapefruit…

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….reading  An Orange in January by Dianna Hutts Aston and The Red Lemon by Bob Staake…

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….and sending kids home with lemons and recipes to make lemonade, cleaners and invisible ink!

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A delicious result of Food Day: DDR

On the morning of National Food Day, I had prepared a soundtrack to blare from big speakers to greet the kids and the school busses. Disney, reggae, country western, Elvis—a variety of high energy songs whose lyrics were somehow linked to food. I enjoyed the loud music so much that I took the sound system out to the playground for the 9:50 recess to play it again.   A couple little first grade girls came over and started dancing with me. Truth: I can’t resist a chance to show off a few moves.  So I joined in. Dozens of kids came over and before we knew it we had a full-blown dance party on the playground. A little boy from my garden class ran to me to grab my hands, and we giggled and danced.  As I spun him around and around, he was in stiches at seeing an adult dance so unabashedly and with so little talent, and for 15 minutes we were lost in the frenzied joy of it all.

I asked the administration if we can do it again, so now every Thursday….

is Dance Dance Recess!

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Food Day Nibbles, part 2

To celebrate National Food Day at the end of October, our elementary and junior high schools presented 14 workshops about agriculture, nutrition and cooking to which students rotated all day. Here’s a taste of all of the hands-on learning that happened.

Resource Conservation District of San Diego joined us for the first time to teach kids to make pots out of newspaper and plant herb seeds for windowsill gardens.

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Julian schools alumna Jill talked about growing up in Julian, going to UC Santa Cruz and starting her own farm, Mountain Chickadee Farm .

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Chef Greg from Healthy Adventures Foundation taught another wonderful cooking class.

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Camp Stevens headed up a workshop on making fresh smoothies.  Very hands on with the kid-safe knives!

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Mr. Martineau led a fun and educational workshop on the use of animal byproducts in everyday products, having students guess ingredients.  Also included: how many bug parts in different foods—perfect for junior high!

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UC Regent’s Farm Smart program once again joined us and presented another excellent hands-on workshop on corn.

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Chef Jeremy from Jeremy’s on the Hill (and Jeremy’s on the Campus, our school lunch program) led a workshop at the junior high, talking about his restaurant and getting feedback from kids about school lunch

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Mrs. Croman taught a special music class with food songs!

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Kids pressed their own apple juice from local fruit, with help from the Julian Apple Growers Association.

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The amazing Mrs. Cantor taught the kids to make sweet and savory crepes.  Later in the day volunteers delivered extras to all of the volunteers and staff.  Final count:  280 dinner plate sized crepes.

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Local family and farm Cook Pigs joined us, talking about their sustainable operation and letting kids interact with their dog and piglet Chewbaca.

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Juicing seminars, with the bicycle blender out for a spin! Image 14 Image 8 Image 11

All students returned to their classrooms to write about the day in their garden journals.

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Not pictured:  Mr. Pierce showed and discussed food films from the Nourish series, Mr. Duffy taught a food safety class as he and Mr. Lay made chicken-veggies kebabs on the garden’s BBQ, and Miss Carmen led a class on “eating real.”

We also extended Food Day into our after-school program with more cooking classes and a fieldtrip to a local restaurant.  I played a memory game with kitchen utensils and followed with a taste test of guavas, papayas, dates, fresh figs, etc.

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If you were involved in any way, thank you!!!  Will you come again next year? :)