Let them eat apples!

Our beloved math teacher at the junior high made a new rule for his class this year:  no eating in class, except apples.  My son came home insistent he take an apple to class the next day…you know, because Mr. Copeland said he could!

This is great timing, because the elementary garden is producing a lovely crop right now.  The trees predate the character garden, but they’ve suffered neglect as long as I can remember because they were on the opposite side of the fence—no easy way to water or prune or harvest.

But with the arrival of the Hubbell gate, we peeled the fence back to make way for the eventual footpath down the hill.  And in so doing, we brought four trees into the garden’s footprint.

So this week we harvested a big bowl of these organic apples and took them to math class. I checked in after first period to see this:

Gone! All apples had vanished by second period, demonstrating two principles: One, you can sneak organic nutrition in the back door when it’s made available by a cool teacher and Two, middle schoolers will eat anything in sight, even something good for them!

Scary statistics/hopeful trends

At our backcountry collaborative meeting this week, a guest speaker from the San Diego County Office of Education talked about the growing national obesity epidemic.  Consider these frightening statistics she mentioned:

-A child born today in the U.S. is likely to have a shorter lifespan than his/her parents.

-40% of children in San Diego County are considered overweight or clincally obese.

-The Department of Defense has called the obesity epidemic an issue of national security because 75% of young people otherwise eligible for service in the armed forces cannot pass the fitness test.

The good news is that we are starting to see an increased emphasis on physical education, outdoor exposure, and healthy eating habits in school programs, community initiatives and funding opportunities.  Similarly, increasing attention is also being placed on connecting school children to local, fresh food, often through school garden programs.  One thing I hope to do more with kids at our school is to help them understand where and how food is grown in our community, starting with our neighborhood farms and reaching out into the county.

Yesterday I led an after school field trip for the GATE students to Volcan View Farms where we were given a tour by local farmer and early-friend-to-our-school-garden, Ryan Wannamaker.

Ryan showing how he “grows” soil—the rye grass and bell beens grown in this field as a cover crop and plowed under six weeks ago now make for rich and rejuvenated soil for this year’s plantings (Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries)

Up close with what’s growing now in Julian (Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries)

Talking about 3,000 onion transplants in the shadow of Mount Volcan


Hanging with the chickens

From the garden to the cafeteria

Last month I attended the “Garden to Cafeteria Food Service Workshop” held in a conference room at the San Diego Zoo.  Recognizing the need for school gardens, and their recent surge in popularity, this one-day seminar was about establishing good protocols for harvesting garden produce for school lunch programs.  Here’s a sampling of my notes from the day:

  • Ventura School District buys 80% of their produce locally and has moved to scratch cooking—and this is serving 2 million meals a year!  Farewell Mystery Meat!  We heard about their innovative program, which included the district purchasing vegetables from one of their high school garden clubs.  Sandy Curwood, the district’s Food Services director, said that in preparing fresh, local food she has seen her budget remain the same but with an important shift.  What she has saved in processed food has been spent on hiring more people to prepare food.  A great trade-off, I think!
  • Sandy emphasized the importance of nutrition education in conjunction with the introduction of new foods.  Kids may not like new fruits or vegetables at first, but much like teaching math, we don’t eliminate teaching something because kids have initial resistance to it!
  • Great quote from Sandy Curwood:  “The famer/gardener is the frontline health practitioner.”
  • Interestingly enough, one of the organizers of the event was the San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative.  With 30% of kids considered “clincally obese,” this group has an interest in school gardens and nutrition, maintaining that kids who have a hand in growing their food are more likely to form good eating habits.
  • Another presenter was San Diego Unified.  This district has recently written up a set of protocols for maintaining school gardens and safely harvesting food.  We walked to Roosevelt Middle School, an adjacent campus to the zoo that has a garden.  From their hydroponic garden, we harvested, rinsed and prepared lettuce, practicing the new SDUSD rules and regulations.
  • The workshop had a waiting list of people wanting to attend.  Hopefully this interest signals the fact that school gardens are slowly becoming more incorporated into the central life of schools.

The hydroponic system (and potting shed) at Roosevelt Middle School