Snowy landscapes and comforting spaces

Hello friends!

Even though it has been snowy and freezing cold in our garden with not much happening…..img_3739 img_3740

….I’d like to share these warming thoughts from our school garden partners/sponsors. The Sage Garden Project works with gardens all across the county and state. The stated purpose of my blog is to make a case for school gardens from every conceivable angle and here’s yet another:

Your School’s Garden As A Healing Place
Thoughts, Experiences, and Ideas from the Sage Garden Project Staff

It would be disingenuous to publish a newsletter full of recipes and growing tips without speaking to the anguish and upset that many of our students are experiencing currently. The schools we support range from those filled with families serving in the military to those filled with immigrants from Mexico and others with large populations specifically from the Middle East. More than ever, we hope that the Sage Garden Project provides a common ground – where students do not compete, but rather work together, learn together, and ultimately, break bread together. More than ever, it is our hope that school gardens can be a respite, a place of solace, of peace, rest, and beauty. We have often found our sensitive students wishing to sit in a quiet spot in the garden in order to escape the chaos of the recess playground. Perhaps now would be the perfect time to create a calm corner of your garden that is a special spot, welcome to all quiet comers. Some schools have special “I could use a friend” benches, some have “time-out” spots. Whatever you choose to anoint your spot, consider stocking it with books, art supplies, and suggestions of garden projects that interested students could take up, and get their minds off their problems in the process. Let’s work toward making our gardens places to nurture our children’s whole selves, in addition to feeding their bellies.

“California Thursdays” lunch launch

On March 17th, our district participated in a statewide launch of California Thursdays, a program promoted by the Center for Ecoliteracy.  The idea is simple: districts sign on to serve a lunch every Thursday sourced only with California food.

To get ready for the big celebration, I worked with after school students for two months to create educational signage and decorations.

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Strawberries were planned for the menu, so I made them the “harvest of the month” and created strawberry lessons.  We examined strawberry plants, talked about “runners” or stolons, searched for plants in the garden with “strawberry facts,” whipped up strawberry smoothies and made little posters that later decorated the lunch area wall.

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One day before the event, I taught two flower arranging classes after school to make the lunch table centerpieces.  I found the plastic pots at a dollar store, and we made the entire arrangements with only plants and flowers found in the school garden.  They turned out beautifully!

Picking flowers…..

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…and arranging them!

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On the morning of our launch, the Garden Ambassadors came to school early to help me hang signs and posters.

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At 11:00 our special guests arrived—the farmers and ranchers who provided the food for lunch, representatives from our caterer Jeremy’s on the Campus, Jan Stone from the Center for Ecoliteracy and partners from North County San Diego Health and Human Services.  Our Garden Ambassadors greeted each guest, sat with him/her during the assembly and lunch, and provided garden tours.

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Our lunch consisted of sliders made with bison meat from a local ranch, salad from Farmer Phil at Sage Mountain Farm, and bread from California Mountain Bakery.  At the assembly right before lunch, junior high students showed a slideshow they created about California agriculture.  Ken Childs from Star B Ranch, the local bison ranch, spoke to the kids about raising bison and set up a table of bison-related items to see and touch.  Chef Jeremy, Farmer Phil, Jan Stone and Health and Human Services Deputy Director Jennifer Bransford-Koons also spoke about good, local food and healthy lunch!

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Then we all ate lunch!  A wonderful day, and an awesome concept—our district is proud to be a part of the state’s California Thursday effort!  (And thank you to Susi Jones for making this whole event happen—her vision always inspires!)

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Getting smarter every year: the daffodil show

We have hundreds of daffodils planted all around our garden, and we keep adding more every year. Every March our town of Julian hosts a daffodil show which is truly wonderful! (You can read my rapturous past reports here and here.)

Though students have planted most of the daffodils, I usually picked our prizewinning blooms the first couple years the school garden was represented in the youth division of the show.  Then I got a little smarter and had the kids go out and pick the flowers.  This year I was even smarter and put the whole process in the students’ hands: I not only had the students choose the flowers, after a short tutorial on how to do so properly, but I also had them key out the flowers using a laminated guide with flower part diagrams and division breakdowns.  They also arranged the blooms in show vases and filled out the submission cards.  Our wonderful Garden Beneficial for the day,  Jenny graciously offered to drop them off at Town Hall, ready to enter. And like every year, we brought home a handful of ribbons—but this year, the ownership of the flowers and the garden and our participation in the show was better than ever—no surprise.  School garden cardinal rule:  get kids’ hands on everything!

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January/February garden tour

As is our tradition, let’s take a look around at the last couple months of garden/education at Julian Elementary (aka “Garden Tour”).  We’ll start inside, because due to wet, windy and freezing weather, that’s where we’ve been doing a lot of our lessons.

Potentially messy inside, but do-able if you lay all of the supplies out just right: pinecone bird feeders.

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We hung all 80 of them from the plum tree the next day:

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Younger students are now studying the edible “flower” part of the plant so roasted cauliflower in my portable oven was our taste test–another big hit.  Favorite interaction:  Students were exclaiming how it was their new favorite food.  “It’s good…plus 100!”  “It’s good, plus 200!” And then a little boy with a cute grin declared: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten, the last number in the world TIMES the last number in the world!”

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Another fun indoor lesson covered an introduction to soil.  We talked about the differences between sand, silt and clay and then looked at samples under the microscopes.

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Using a great lesson from Sage Garden, we then mixed up edible “soil” with different size cereals and yogurt.

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Teak Nichols from the Julian Apple Growers Association was our guest speaker for three classes, teaching a lesson on pruning fruit trees.  Local fruit association working with a public school: a real apples to apples connection!

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A “search and find” activity gave students clues to things in the garden.  Once they found the items, they found “words” which they plugged into a puzzle on their sheet.

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The completed puzzle read:

“Your mind is a garden, Your thoughts are the seeds, You can grow flowers, Or you can grow weeds.”  We had a short chat about what that could mean, dovetailing with our school-wide focus on character education.

Students started making educational signage for our upcoming California Thursdays event–more on that to come.

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We finished our “Drink a Rainbow” smoothie series:

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Fifth grade needed a place to test their flood barriers–our swale covered in clover was a good spot to flood!

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They also picked some early daffodils for a still life drawing lesson in Mrs. McFedries’ (unendingly creative) class.

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Corn tortillas, and the concept of global staple foods, made for a tasty mini-lesson.

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Thanks for taking a stroll with me!  Next up: California Thursdays!

Drink a rainbow

An effective phrase for teaching nutrition to children is “eat a rainbow!”  The simple idea is that eating fruits and veggies of all different colors builds a healthy diet.  We made this a theme on Food Day 2015, and I want to keep building upon it.

Sage Garden has provided us with their notebook of recipes which includes a different color smoothie for each grade.  I pulled all of the different colors and am doing “Drink a rainbow!” workshops for my after school students.

I began by setting up the Sage Garden cooking cart with all of the equipment and ingredients laid out and the recipe written on the whiteboard.

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Then I gave each pair of students a stack of laminated fruit and vegetable cards produced by the California Department of Education.  The students sorted the fruits and veggies into two piles:  orange/yellow and other.  We talked about all the orange and yellow examples we found.

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Students came up one by one for the various jobs:  juicing the oranges, peeling the bananas, pressing the limes, adding the strawberries, measuring out the yogurt.

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The next week we did purple smoothies, and this week we will blend up red ones.  As you can imagine, it’s a very popular class!

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In which service volunteers are celebrities…

It was a good morning in November when I answered the Pathways phone and an AmeriCorps team member was on the line, asking if we would like a group of volunteers for a day of service at school.

Um, YES!

On December 18th, we welcomed eight young people from all around the county on a 10-month term of community service across the western states.  They had been in Julian for six weeks, staying at Camp Stevens and working on building and clearing trails, planting natives on Volcan and helping out around town, such as assisting locals in hanging all of the holiday decorations on our historic Main Street.  On our day, they worked with Pathways, helping to wrap presents for our toy drive, moving a sandbox for the special ed. department, planting bulbs, painting our table, and installing a hoop system over our raised beds.

I also asked them if they would be willing to do a 15-minute presentation to the 4th and 5th grade classes.  They were happy to do this and visited each class to discuss the concept of AmeriCorps, what projects they had already contributed to, where they were headed next, and what they had learned about committing a year of their young lives to service in various communities.  I also asked the team to share some of their reflections on living in Julian with our students, as it’s always great to get an outsider’s perspective on what is just “daily life” for you.  They talked about the natural beauty of Julian, the close-knit community who had welcomed them wholeheartedly and of course, the apple pie.

After taking a few last questions, I hustled them out the door so the students could get ready for lunch.  As I did, some fifth graders followed us with pen and paper and started asking the AmeriCorps members to sign their names.  Suddenly I realized the kids were asking for their autographs!  The AmeriCorps members realized this too as they signed paper after paper, laughing that this was definitely a “first” for them.

Oh to live in a world where the people who volunteer and serve in communities are the celebrities!  And thank you to the amazing Mrs. McFedries who has taught her class to respect and be grateful for people who serve others.  Bless you AmeriCorps team as you continue to make the world a better place!

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Last garden tour of 2015

Before we head into the new year, here’s a glimpse of the fun we had and the work we did in the school garden in November and December—aka my periodic “Garden Tour.”

Leaf rubbings in garden class made sweet placemats for “Take your parent to lunch” in the garden.

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Following up on the “How is it grown?” video the students watched on Food Day, we made a simple cranberry relish with orange juice and local honey.

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While the cranberries cooked, we worked on updating our garden journals—-decorating the covers with images from garden catalogues and inserting recipes and other lesson materials from the last couple months.

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Miss Sally Snipes gave us a bushel of daffodils to add to the garden.  To make this a fun activity, I called the class “Bulbs and Bubbles.”  After planting a few bulbs, students got to blow bubbles…then back to the bulbs….and then bubbles…

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I took the portable speaker out to the garden to play Christmas music as students went wild decorating the garden.  Where could they hang ornaments?  Anywhere they could reach.

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For out last garden class in December, the younger grades made tangerine pomanders—a highly sensory, fine motor activity.

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Older students do an activity that is now a bit of tradition around the holidays: wreath making with freshly cut cedar and rosemary sprigs.

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Freezing weather sent us inside for a few garden classes.  Here students measured out their own healthy trail mix and munched on it while we played garden bingo.

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Anticipating a lot of cold, wet weather to come, I am now thinking through new inside garden projects and activities for the rest of the winter.

More to come in the new year:  our visit from Americorps and garden fashion!  Thanks for following along in 2015!  And thanks for sharing my love and enthusiasm for “all the good things that happen in school gardens.”  Happy New Year!