“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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September/October garden tour (aka photo dump)

Every month or so I like to walk around the garden and catch y’all up on new things, beginning this month with our “farm to school” banners which Mr. Wells just hung outside the after school club.  This set features produce grown in San Diego County in the fall.  They add a lively, colorful element to this outside eating/studying area.

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My Garden Ambassadors are a hardworking group.  These two take charge of lunchtime composting.

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They love leaving me notes—a habit I encourage by leaving them notes back.

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Mr. Copeland stops by as the K/1st graders were showing off our new set of gloves in after school garden class.

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Lots of cool season planting due to having lots of space due to our spectacularly lousy summer crop:

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In after school class, sometimes we just play games in the garden.  With everyone occupied with fun stuff at the table, I can pull one or two students out for small jobs or teachable moments.

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We have been making cinnamon maple applesauce in our longer format classes during the school day.

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I’ve been printing the recipe in Thursday’s bulletin.  If students make it at home, they send me a photo, and I invite them to enjoy lunch in the school garden with friends.

Grace and applesauce

At school:

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At home:

Ryder:applesauce

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Finally, I’ve slowly been collecting “seasonal touches” to decorate the garden.  I saw this years ago at a school garden in San Fransisco when our garden was just getting started, and it was too much to consider at the time.  But now, I’m ready. Garage sales are a great place to find decor out of season.  This came from the Methodist Church’s rummage sale, and I think it adds a lovely autumn touch.  (Also, I bought the over-the-door wreath hanger which keeps the arrangement in place.)

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Garden Ambassadors wanted to put up Halloween decorations so they hung webs and spiders—appropriate for the garden!

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Up next:  Why is Mrs. Tree crying?  (Possibly my favorite post ever, next time.)

Edible Schoolyard Academy (ES Part I)

Before I plunge into all that I learned, let me explain the basics of the Edible Schoolyard (ES.)  It is a project started 20 years ago by Chef Alice Waters at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California.

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It has a one-acre garden…

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with a beautiful central teaching space: straw bales in a ring under a ramada with kiwi vines…

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…a small but efficiently run greenhouse with timed irrigation….

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….a compost row, when these very hot piles are turned every two weeks, resulting in finished compost in 8…

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…a well-organized tool shed (more on that later)…

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…outdoor oven…

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…and much more (veggies, flowers, fruit and nut trees, olive grove, rainwater harvesting, etc.)

They also have a beautiful kitchen and cooking education building…

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…a peek inside (more on this later too)

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..all of which is based on Alice’s principles of an “edible education,” spelled out on the side of the building.

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Take a look at the jaw-dropping dining commons…

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…where we ate delicious things such as…

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This program is run by a team of garden managers and interns, head chef and cooking instructors, program administrators and office staff, Americorps volunteers, summer interns, and consultants, all of whom we met the first day of the Academy.  They run the Academy once a year, for about a 100 attendees, to share all of their secrets.

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St. Alice also spoke, emphasizing her big, audacious idea: a free, delicious, sustainable school lunch for every child in America.

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Then we broke into three cohorts, by region, and spent one full day on each rotation: garden, kitchen, and administration.  We also had panels on fundraising, the farm to school movement and school lunch reform and one night went out for an a-w-e-s-o-m-e dinner in Oakland at Pizzaola.  Our days were full–example of garden day below:

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My next four posts will talk about the Academy thematically, starting with one of Alice’s main principles: “Beauty is the language of care.”  Stay tuned….meanwhile, happy, fuzzy picture of me by the lovely, handmade ES banner.

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My farm to school vacation…er, conference

Susi and I just returned from the first California Farm to School conference hosted by the California Farm to School Network.  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.

February Garden Tour

Time for a walk around the garden.  Leave your jackets at home—it’s 76 degrees here today in Julian.

I picked up these banners at a garage sale in my effort to add holiday touches to the garden.

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Miss Lynn added these:

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Valentines Day is the rule of thumb for planting peas, and peas we did plant!

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Kale is our harvest of the month, and my parent helpers/Garden Beneficials cooked up kale chips at our outdoor kitchen for the fifth graders.  One thing I have become convinced of during my tenure as garden teacher—-NUTRITION EDUCATION WORKS!  These kids were gobbling down the kale chips, begging for more, asking for the recipe, declaring it to be one of their favorite foods….uh, kale chips!

Harvesting from our new 3×3 beds:

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Cooking in our new little convection oven at our outdoor food prep station:

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Munching away:

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A Farm to School project recently finished!  I had sets of banners made for the crops that are grown in San Diego each season.  The winter set now enhances the indoor area where children pick up their lunches.

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Next to the banners is one of the photographs taken by a student in our after-school photography program Kids with Cameras, identifying the chef behind the meal.

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Early start kindergarten and kindergarten students focus on a “letter of the week.”  I’m using these empty picture frames to teach garden vocabulary.  The students hunt for them, and we learn the name of the object framed.  D-d-d-d for daffodil!

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Lastly, our district recently received a Live Well San Diego proclamation from our county board of supervisor for our wellness programs.  Pictured left to right–County Supervisor Diane Jacob, School Board president Eileen Tellam, Superintendent Kevin Ogden, and me.  Also recognized were Teresa and Jeremy Manley who were also present at the meeting.

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Smoothie bike!

One of our Farm to School purchases was a bike blender attachment.  A regular bike gets hooked up to a stand and a platform with a Vitamix blender.  Thirty seconds of pedal power, and you have a full pitcher of smoothie.

We ordered the smoothie apparatus in order to promote healthy snacks at school events.  The mountain bike club borrowed the equipment last weekend for the elementary cross-country meet. We used a simple recipe of apple juice, frozen berries, fresh bananas, and ice. Not only did we raise money for our team, but we also had the pleasure of passing out healthy, delicious drinks to kids running their hearts out on a beautiful day in Julian.

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Thanks to my Dad who first saw this type of bike at a golf tournament and led me to research it.  Find out more at http://www.rockthebike.com

Thankful for restoration work

Last Thanksgiving break found me finishing a big project at the junior high garden.  We received funding to plant out the hillside adjacent to the garden with California natives.  I looked around for a volunteer landscape consultant, but when there were none to be found, I buckled down and did the research myself on the question:  What are the best native plants for slopes?

Visiting the “natives only” Las Pilitas nursery in Escondido (and their super informative website: http://www.laspilitas.com) told me everything I needed to know.  Planting natives requires adherence to a few important principles:

  • Ground should be saturated before the plant goes in so all the water isn’t drawn away.
  • Natives need lots of water the day they are put in the ground.
  • After that, you water only when you test the soil with your finger and feel that it is dry.  If it’s wet, leave it.  One exception seems to be that slope plants need water twice a week to get established.
  • Fall is a great time to plant because the rains will take up the slack in getting them established.
  • After they are established, they may need supplemental water in the summer—but after that, they’re good to go!
  • Shredded redwood bark (sometimes called “gorilla hair”) is a excellent choice for thick mulching around the plant.  I bought as many bags as I could shove in my car.
  • Natives are awesome:  They are appropriate to the area, create habitat, and thrive with minimal resources.

Here’s another cool aspect of this project.  We have four 60 gallon rain barrels hooked up to a portable classroom at the junior high.  Up until a few weeks ago we used this water exclusively—-no tap water at all—-to plant 40 plus plants on the hillside.  People wonder if small rainwater catchment systems make a difference.  They do!   Sixty gallon barrels fill very quickly catching even a modest amount of rain off a large surface, like a building’s roof.  Of course, they are now empty with our (distressing) dry spell.  We might get some rain tomorrow night, however, which will not only take care of the once-a-week watering they require to get established, but will also fill the barrels again to get us through the next stretch of (super distressing) drought.

I pulled students in to the planting when possible, grabbing a few volunteers at recess and taking students out during a Thursday enrichment class.  Rains in November, however, dictated the planting schedule, so I found myself there alone, digging, planting and mulching.  The hillside is bare and a little eroded, so putting in the plants helps to beautify one of the outdoor areas where children eat—an element in creating a Farm to School program.  These plants will also stabilize the bank over time while creating appropriate habitat for birds and butterflies.  So as I teetered on the hillside, digging holes and gazing down on our public school, I felt thankful  for restoration work which turns out to be personally restorative as well—a good way to kick off my Thanksgiving break.

Many thanks to the Community United Methodist Church of Julian Gallo Fund for making this project possible!

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The hillside is dotted with beautiful little natives, reaching deep for water.

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The big vision is to have this entire hillside landscaped with California natives. We’re 40+ plants on our way.