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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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!

Girl Scout composts her way to Silver Award

Local girl scout Sara Rott decided to do her Silver Award on the junior high garden.  One major component was starting a composting system.  In addition to educating her peers, she also helped with the mechanics of the system so that it will continue for years.

Here are two of the signs she made.  One set will hang at the elementary school; the other at the junior high.

Also, she built this screen to harvest finished compost.  Days after she delivered it, we used it at Family Fun Day.

This is an excerpt of what she wrote about her project in her final report:

My experience with this project has brought new light to how a community can come together to help.  With my voice and my research in composting and building a school garden, kids and adults started to listen.  When people started to see the results of the garden and started enjoying the flowers and vegetables that were being grown, my efforts were worth trying.  My composting helped the garden to make soil instead of buying it.  What was being grown and eaten was being recyled back into soil.  This great achievement has brought awareness not only to me but to my school mates, teachers, our district supervisor, principals, and school board members.

Wanted: new crop of Garden Ambassadors

At the beginning of the school year, I visit the fifth grade class, give a pitch for Garden Ambassadors and pass out applications.  This week I conduct interviews.  The returning (sixth grade) senior garden ambassadors have already been chosen, and today two of them spent part of their lunch to help me water and harvest for tomorrow’s lesson.

The application asks three questions.  Naturally all of the students wrote about having good character, demonstrating leadership qualities and being interested in all aspects of gardening.  Here’s a few of my favorite lines from this year’s application.

What do you think are good qualities for a Garden Ambassador to have?

Good qualities for a Garden Ambassador are respect, motivation, and an open heart.

I think some good qualities for a Garden Ambassador to have are being willing to get their hands dirty.

Knowing how to decipher weeds from produce!

I think good qualities to have are a good memory and a helpful soul.

Good listening and you can’t mess around! When you’re talking to a guest, don’t mumble and talk clearly.  Last year I created the Green Team and really enjoyed being a leader!

Why would you like to serve as a Garden Ambassador?

Because I think our garden is beautiful and I want to be a part of it!

This would teach me how to plant my own garden.  It would make me so happy if I were chosen!

I am interested in different plant species and how wonderful they look and what they do for our ecosystem.

I remember seeing the Senior Garden Ambassadors and saying I want to do that, and now look, I might!

I’d like to serve as a garden ambassador because I believe we don’t grow the garden, it grows us.   (I’d also love to play my violin in the garden to welcome special guests.)

I see it as an art form.  A blank canvas waiting to be painted.

I want to do it to inspire the younger kids to become Garden Ambassadors. 

What do you think you could learn from serving as a Garden Ambassador?

I could learn how to talk to the public or give a speech without being shy or nervous.

And finally, an addendum to one of the applications (I could clean out the gazebo if you were having guests):

“And Volcan is my mountain”

Kids with Cameras was a wildly successful afterschool photography class that was offered by the Garden Club and partner organizations last fall.  This past week we launched Kids with Cameras 2.0 Spring Semester.  One of the program founders, Jeff Holt gave the first lecture on frame, focus, format, and then the kids headed out to the garden to practice.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

This program has been successful on many levels, and in ways we couldn’t have expected.  Here is but one example.  One of the program partners is the Volcan Mountain Foundation whose mission is to preserve Volcan Mountain for future generations through the conservation and acquisition of land, practice of respectful stewardship, environmental education, public outreach, and resource management.  Every year they hold a dinner/dance fundraiser, and this past winter they decided to make Kids with Cameras the theme for the event, to emphasize the child/nature connection that falls within their mission.

Cue my friends: Allison, Kathy, Rita, Dana and Jeff.  Look at the decorations they came up with–as I said in my remarks that night “all locally sourced and lovingly assembled.”

From the imagination of Allison---film looped around natural elements with children's photographs

(Photo courtesy of Chris Elisara)

My friends made this from thin air---grand arrangements to match the centerpieces, with local foliage accented with turkey feathers and vintage cameras (Photo courtesy of Chris Elisara)

The mantel is decorated with an enlarged photo of kids on the mountain, local greenery and flowers, and antique cameras. Enlarged photos from the photography fieldtrip were hung in the dining room and auction venue.

Children's photography was for sale during the silent auction--all proceeds benefitting the work of Volcan Mountain Foundation

Additionally, my son was one of two kids asked to make a short speech.  It is reprinted below.  Watching him deliver this speech, and hearing/watching the room respond, was a highlight of highlights living here in Julian.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Ethan Elisara.  My father is Chris Elisara who was born and raised in New Zealand.  In New Zealand, the native people who are called the Maori, introduce themselves by saying their name as well as a geographic feature they identify with, such as a river, an ocean or a mountain.  So as a half-Kiwi I would introduce myself to you saying:  Ko Ethan ahau. Ko Volcan te maunga OR  I am Ethan and Volcan is my mountain.

Growing up in Julian I have lived in two houses.  Both of them have faced Volcan Mountain.  The view of Volcan has been a backdrop for my childhood.  I see it when I wake up in the morning, from the playground at school and even from the mountain bike track that I bike twice a week.

Kids with cameras gave me the opportunity to explore the mountain more closely.  With my camera in hand, I studied the landscape.  I noticed shadows and examined trees.  I waited for the perfect moment when cottontail fluff blew across the viewfinder.  With our instructors we conversed about the light, we talked about the rule of thirds, we scrambled over rocks and tore across meadows.  At the end, we had hot chocolate and reflected on the day. 

Thanks for being here tonight and preserving my mountain.  Kia Ora and good evening.

Rainwater Harvesting, Extreme Edition

Rain barrels are a common sense idea, and I love seeing them pop up at school gardens. Here is one of the barrels at the junior high garden.  It holds 60 gallons— 60 gallons that will not come from the spigot and will be replenished repeatedly this year (after we water the garden following dry spells or use water for the compost bin).

photo by Jeff Holt

It’s an ancient and necessary idea: catching our own rainwater and using it when we need to irrigate.  Quite simply, every ounce of precious rainwater captured, stored and later used for irriation is an ounce of precious potable water saved.  It’s a no-brainer technology, but as we know, when natural resources are cheap, convenient and plentiful, we often don’t invest the time, money or energy into smart alternatives.  It’s clearly high time for all us—especially drought-plagued regions— to re-think this.

For this reason my Garden Club co-president and I attended a water catchment workshop at our local library.  We were wriggling out of our seats with excitement, and when the talk concluded, we persuaded the presenter (Rosalind Haselbeck of http://www.buildinggreenfutures.com) to walk up to our elementary campus and advise us.  Where should a system go?  How big could it be?  How much would it cost?

I then went looking for grant money.

Two proposals were accepted.  We received $1,000 from San Diego Agriculture in the Classroom (a program of the San Diego Farm Bureau) and $3,500 from San Diego County Supervisor Diane Jacob’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program.

The system was installed in the spring, and we cut the ribbon this fall.  (The grant money has also paid for educational signage.)  To our knowledge, it is the largest rainwater harvesting project on a school campus in San Diego county. Together the cisterns hold 3,000 gallons of water.

Two cisterns hold 1,500 gallons each; a pump in the middle attaches to a garden hose

County Supervisor Jacob waters the kindergarten winter vegetable bed with rainwater pumped from the cisterns

The cisterns sit discreetly behind our gazebo

Installed gutters catch rain that falls on the roof of the maintenance building adjacent to the garden. (The roof is large, hence significant surface area to catch water–as such, even a modest rain yields a lot of water.  There are cool formulas for this which are easy to find–I won’t bog down the blog with math right now.) Pipes direct the water into the top of the tanks.

Gutter screens keep out major debris.  A “first flush diverter” drains off the first catch of rain (thus washing the roof for a cleaner collection).  A settling J-inlet in the large tank further traps sediment.  (The water is not drinkable—the system has these features to ensure we are storing clean water.) The tanks are dark colored to prohibit algal growth.  Excess water is drained off through an overflow pipe which you can direct wherever you’d like.

It is the end of the December, and the tanks are full.  This past week I needed to do some watering. (It has been cold but very dry.)  I was delighted to find that using gravity-fed pressure ALONE, I could get sufficient water pressure to the far end of the garden.  And after an hour of watering, I could barely see the rain gauge budge.  All of that free, untreated water just coursing through the hose to nurture our garden—pretty amazing!  And now I’ve freed up some space in the cisterns for our next rain, thus catching more water for our next dry spell…

If you are in the San Diego area and would like to see the system in person, please contact me and I will arrange a tour!