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.

Garden Ambassadors = Girl Power

Every year I have a different number and mix of 5th grade Garden Ambassadors.  This year, I’m thrilled to have 10 amazing girls.

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A new feature in the program this year is the “Headquarters” board in the garden room. The girls love checking the board….

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A few snippets from one of the outstanding Garden Ambassador applications:  (You know who you are!)

I would like to serve as a Garden Ambassador because when I was little I looked up to the garden ambassadors.  I would like that to happen to me.

I think a garden ambassador should have the ability to be a school representative.  A garden ambassador should be a good public speaker. They should also be willing to give up their extra time for the garden.  I think they should be focused, determined, mature, hardworking, trustworthy.  They should be respectful, responsible and compassionate.

I would also like to be a garden ambassador because it will give me an opportunity to interact with people.  I can also help the garden.  Being a garden ambassador is something to be proud of.

I know being a garden ambassador will help me be a better public speaker.  I will also gain more self-confidence. I will gain more knowledge of the scientific world and the garden.  It could make a remarkable impact upon my life.

To learn more about our Garden Ambassador program, look here or here or here.

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.

Blog anniversay, by the numbers

As of today, years I have been blogging: 1

Degree of change in my view toward the value of blogging in this last year: 180

Number of views in the last year: 9,458

Number of people who have signed on for every e-mail, aka “followers”: 83

Number of posts:  85

Days per week I posted (mostly): 2

Number of comments:  562

Chances that the top three commenters are related to me: 100%

Views of most popular post (“Curating a classroom”): 518

Views of least popular post (“Adopt the garden for the summer”):  11

Number of views on most popular day (January 23rd):  125

My age in the photo of aforementioned post that garnered the most interest :  5

On a scale from 1 to 10, degree to which I’m still excited about school gardens: 10

I appreciate all of you for tuning in and cheering me on in the last year.  My writing life has never been more fun and consistent, and I have you—my audience–to thank.

To celebrate the past year, I’d like to bump up a couple of my favorite posts that I wrote early in the year and that have been a bit buried:

The Table

Three reasons to invite your community into the garden

Why I love the daffodil show in Julian

Thanks for coming by!  See you next year.

Garden As Reward Destination

Kids are given lots of different types of incentives in school, and our school has hit upon a cool one.  Children receive a “Friday note” if they complete all of the week’s homework–this is something the school has done for years.  This year they have added a component: twice a quarter all of the kids with all of their Friday notes are allowed to sign up for a variety of enrichment activities on a given Friday afternoon. Choices include cooking, hiking, art, etc. Kids without all of their Friday notes attend a study skills and academic habits workshop in order to bring up their game for the next round.

Often the Garden Club provides an engaging activity as one of the choices. We like that kids view extra time in the garden as a reward! In October our small group made scarecrows, and although their quirky creations have presided over the garden all fall and early winter, it is now time for them to return to the straw bed and thrift store from whence they came.  Goodbye scarecrows!

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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"

Fall Garden Market, Main Street

Twice a year, the Garden Club parents and kids create items made in or inspired by the garden (with gourmet baked goods and hot cider/coffee too!)  Despite temperatures in the 40’s and occasional sprinkles, my friends made me proud!  We set up a beautiful display in front of Town Hall, talked to tourists (and each other) all day long, and raised a remarkable $1300 for the garden.

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