Food, ready for its closeup

Under Mr. Pierce’s instruction, today’s afterschool photography program Kids with Cameras class tackled still life, starring fruits and vegetables, to go with our “food focus” for this semester.  Stacey Peyakov from our local produce stand Wynola Flats donated produce for us to work with (thank you, Stacey!)

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I threw in my own week’s groceries as well as every basket, platter, small bowl and linen in my house.  Other instructors added vases, spools of yarn, a jug of paintbrushes, bowls, shells, lanterns…..  We ended up with a great selection of props.

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Mr. Pierce gave an excellent short presentation on the concept of “still life,” and then outlined a few things the kids should be thinking about: light, texture, color, shadow, etc.

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Then the kids went for it.  And I loved it.  100% of the kids, 100% engaged, for 100% of the class.  I was in pedagogical heaven.

Selecting materials:

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Our ratio of instructors/adults to students was almost 1:1.  The kids consulted with the teachers, and the teachers helped to set up their shots.

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One of the students suggested we tip over the tables to make areas to create the arrangements This worked great as a way to hang linens or butcher paper for backdrops.

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Watching the students exercise their creativity was a joy.  They’d work with one set of items they collected, arranging and re-arranging, and after getting their photographs, they’d head back and try something totally different.  I’d say they were definitely “in the zone.”

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These faces say it all!  A great day!

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Farmers are outstanding in their field, being photographed

Kids with Cameras, our afterschool photography class, is off and running again (I’ve written about it hereherehere and here if you’d like to know more.)  This semester we’re focusing on food, so we took kids to “Down the Road” Farm–one of the places sourcing Jeremy’s on the Campus with fruit and vegetables.  Farmer Josh, Farmer Bob and even Chef Jeremy were on hand to be photographed.  The idea is that we will enlarge some of the day’s best shots and use them in the cafeteria to help students make a connection between their food and the people/farms that grow it.

The farm is set at the base of Volcan Mountain–a stunning site.

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A student chats with Chef Jeremy.

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The greenhouse provided nice, diffuse light on an otherwise very bright afternoon.

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We found that the kids were a bit shy about approaching the farmer/chefs so one of the instructors set them up in stations, so kids went down the line, interacting with them while shooting–a bit more directed approach.  Here Eva talks with Chef Jeremy by the amaranth.

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Chef Jeremy by the amaranth.

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Farmer Josh had a surprise: extra 2 inch models.

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Photo courtesy of Anne Garcia

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A van full of happy children loaded down with flowering root vegetables!

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Coming soon: what the children photographed that day.  I’ll leave you with something that caught my eye!  Ah autumn!

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Garden journals

Every year I volunteer to be a parent reading helper in my kids’ classes.  This year I asked the teacher if I could be the garden teacher instead!  She said “yes,” and so every week I have the class for a 1/2 hour of garden class.  During our first class, each table of children received a pile of patterned and handmade papers, old seed packets and pages from gardening catalogues as well as a 50 cent composition notebook.  They then proceeded to decorate the books they will use all year long to record garden vocabulary, keep their drawings and make journal entries.  Last week we listed the words “snapdragon” and “transplant” and then made a chart of warm season and cool season vegetables.  We went to the garden to plant a cool season veggie (broccoli) and tasted a warm season veggie (tomato.)  I like that they will have these keepsake journals to take home at the end of the year, full of all of their new gardening knowledge.

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2 garden ideas: one harvested, one homegrown

HARVESTED from That Bloomin’ Garden.  Visit her wonderful blog for all of the actual how-to instructions!  My Garden Ambassador loved painting this gameboard on a tree stump during lunch time.  We are looking around for playing pieces—until then, pebbles vs. leaves!

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Outdoors checkers or chess, anyone?

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HOMEGROWN, at our school in the Friendship Garden cared for by the special education students.  I am in love with the idea of repurposing school infrastrucutre in the garden.  I have a picture of an old-fashioned jungle-gym-climbing-tower being used as a trellis here, and a photo of a filmstrip cart from the 70’s now serving as a taste test cart here.

This year we received brand new salad bars from the Let’s Move Campaign.  One day on my way to the garden I spied the old salad bar, awaiting its doom by the maintenance shed.  So I asked the custodian to move it to the Friendship Garden, and the teachers/kids planted it out.  (Note: sneezeguard removed.)

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One of the teachers told me that the kids love it, especially because they can get up really close to the plants to observe, water and harvest. (That strawberry looks ready!)

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Here’s hoping the trend becomes the future

School and community gardens are exploding.  I hope that it’s not just a good trend, but a move toward the new normal.

There is so much to learn from others’ efforts, and I love to get out and see what’s happening other places.

Last week I took my kids to the Great Park in Irvine where they have an impressive demonstration garden called the Farm + Food Lab.  Wow!  Also, my sister is involved with her girls’ wonderful school garden in San Jose.  I posted pictures of cool ideas from both places under the Children’s Garden Ideas tab in the black menu above.  There are also pictures of “best practices” from school gardens across the state from last year’s road trip.  Please visit! And if you have a photograph of an outstanding idea, feel free to e-mail it to me and I’ll include it in the library.  Thanks!

Curating a classroom

Classrooms can be beautiful.  The first time I realized this was when I visited my friend Drew Ward’s high school English classroom.  He calls it the “MOLA”—Museum of Language Arts.  His walls are black and covered in colorful empty frames.  At the beginning of the school year he challenges his students to write something worthy of hanging in the MOLA.

It made an impression on me, and I think it was in the back of my mind when I was recently working on a project in the Jaguar Den.  The Jaguar Den is a open, multi-use room that has been re-carpeted and painted, awaiting decoration.  Among other things, it will be a venue for indoor garden activities during our cold months (such as the vocabulary-building Garden Bingo we played on a rainy NEAT day.)

“Kids with Cameras” is a collaborative after school program involving the school garden. (You can read about it here.)  We enlarged and matted the kids’ best photos from our Volcan Mountain trip for a community reception.  After the photos were on display at the library for two weeks, the Character Council (charged with designing this new space) decided to have the framed prints hung in the Jaguar Den to create a “gallery feel.”  In this way, students’ work is exhibited, and the photos contribute to a clean and beautiful look we are going for in this room.

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Thank you to my artist friend Ann for arranging and hanging these!

3 reasons to invite your community into your school garden

1.  People like knowing good things are happening in their community.  Every year our school hosts an open house for Global Youth Service Day.  Last year our “Garden Ambassadors” led garden tours for community members as part of the program.  We had neighbors, business owners, school board members, fellow gardeners—even the librarians walked up to the campus in shifts.  More than one adult approached me with tears in their eyes, saying “This is so wonderful.”  Seeing kids poised, knowledgeable, and proud of a project they’re involved in…..well, it just feels good, and makes you happy to know that it’s going on in the place where you live .

Garden Ambassadors orients visitors at our bulletin board

2.  If people are going to support their local schools, they need to be connected to them. Last Spring the women’s group from my church asked for a tour in conjunction with their monthly meeting.  Some of them had not stepped foot on campus in twenty years (when their kids were students); some of them had never stepped foot on campus.  And once they did….they noticed our beautiful murals….and our commanding view of Mt. Volcan from our playground…..and the fact that we have a full-time PE teacher!  I had to keep coaxing them back to the garden, as they were caught up in looking around with excitement.  As we were sitting at the table starting our tour, one of the teacher aides walked up with a quilt.  She had sewn a beautiful quilt for a raffle to support the tsunami victims in Japan. Seeing the women assembled, she asked if she could show it and explain the fundraiser.  Naturally I invited her over, and the dollar bills started flying across the table–“I’ll take two tickets,”  “Here’s a donation!” “I’ll take a ticket, keep the change.”  Sometimes people simply need to know what’s going on to be a part of it.

I love these ladies!

3.  You never know what connections and possibilities these visits may produce.   After a visit, a neighbor donated a small solar panel unit.  A retired school teacher brought by three asclepsis plants for our habitat garden (each one had monarch eggs, a chrysalis and even caterpillars) and then gave a wonderful presentation to the first grade students.  And then…….

Last summer a parent volunteer invited her neighbor to tour the garden.  An artist, the neighbor also runs a local business.  After visiting the garden, she decided to create a mosaic sculpture for us.  When I called to thank her and ask why she made such a generous and spontaneous donation, she cited everything from the “beautiful yellow snapdragons” to the fact that some of her clients work at the school, and she wanted to do this for them.  I was on vacation when the piece was delivered, and I was amazed to see it sitting in the garden when I returned—a unexpected grace note.  We held a ceremony and unveling, with the Garden Ambassadors assisting, and it sits in our butterfly garden today.

The artist Coco Leeras with "Gardens Grow Magic"