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.

A little idea: “garden treasure hunts”

Last week I made this poster on 11×14 paper, with color clipart, and laminated it.

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Then looking at a jigsaw puzzle template online, I scored it into pieces with a ballpoint pen.

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I cut the puzzle into pieces, re-laminated each piece so all of the edges were sealed, and hid them in the garden.  When I took the K students out for afternoon garden class, they hunted for the pieces, returning to the table to fit it together.  I had little rolls of masking tape on the table to help the pieces stay together.

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After we assembled the message, I passed out magnifying glasses and we went looking for signs of fall.

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In the process, we discovered a stick bug.  We made a circle and gently passed it around.

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And then we posed for this picture!  I love how this activity turned out and plan to make a set for each season.  Fun way to end: I gave each student a piece and they re-hid them for my next class—almost as much fun as finding them!

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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.

Strawberry lesson, sweet and juicy

Our “harvest of the month” is strawberries, and I tried out a new idea this year that worked well.  Fifth grade students were split in groups that switched halfway through the lesson.  One group worked on potting strawberry runners; the other transferred 30 strawberry facts on to paper cutouts, which I later laminated and attached to skewers. We also feasted on local strawberries, since ours aren’t quite ready.

Later the kindergarten students hid the strawberries as part of their lesson (which included finger plays, watering, observing strawberry plants and of course eating!)

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Still later, second grade students went on a strawberry scavenger hunt to fill in the missing blanks on this “quiz” pasted into their journals.

1. It takes about_____days for a flower to turn into a fruit.

2. Strawberries are delicate and must be picked__________.

3. The Spanish word for strawberries is _________.

4. Strawberries are in the__________ family.

5. There are about ______species of strawberry plants.

6. Strawberries produce “runners” or __________ that produce new “daughter” plants.

7. Strawberries like ____________days and ____________ nights.

8. Strawberries are usually the first fruit to ripen in the________.

9. On average, there are ____________ tiny seeds on every strawberry.

10. Strawberries are the only fruit that wears seeds on the ____________.

11. Strawberries have lots of vitamin _________.

 12. Strawberries are perennials. This means they live more than ________________.

Afterward, I “planted” all of the signs in one of the strawberry beds for an ongoing educational display.  I think it’s a sweet touch!

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National Breakfast Week

On Tuesday we celebrated National Breakfast Week.  Julian Pathways secured a grant for the school district from Action for Healthy Kids in order to promote the eating of breakfast, and we used it to provide a free breakfast to every child at the elementary and junior high. To make it a festive event, we all ate in the garden!

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The chains were made from seed catalogues by the children

Centerpieces were paper roses, made from seed catalogues, by 3rd and 4th grade students last week in garden class.

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Younger student colored these messages:

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Breakfast is brain food!

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Eat your breakfast!

Student musicians played on the gazebo “stage”….

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…and under the plum tree!

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Last week during garden class, I worked with the fifth graders to write “breakfast haiku.” Students read their poems in-between the musical presentations.

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Twelve lucky kids had heart stickers on their breakfast bags….

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…which meant they got to return to the garden at lunch to ride the “blender bike” and enjoy their own pedal-powered smoothies!

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Thanks to Pathways and Action for Healthy Kids for making this wonderful morning possible!

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Food Day: An educational feast!

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The following article will appear in next week’s Julian News.  Great photos follow after the story!

Joining with individuals, schools and cities across America, Julian Elementary School celebrated its first National Food Day on October 24th.  From 9:00 to 2:00, K-5 students were treated to eight different workshops spread across campus focusing on food, agriculture, cooking and nutrition.  Simply put, students and staff ate it up.

All sessions were experiential, interactive and expertly taught by a team of volunteers.  Representing the Julian Apple Growers Association, Mary Prentice and Teak Nichols related the history of the apple while having the students press their own cider.  Josh Rasmussen, from Down the Road Farm, led students in a planting activity as well as brought farm animals for the kids to enjoy.  Farm Smart, a program of the UC Desert Research and Extension Center, lent us Stephanie Collins for a wonderful program that included churning butter, comparing animal feed, and milking Bessie, a wooden cow equipped with an inner stainless steel container filled with real milk.  Camp Stevens staff Ryan Wannamaker and Correen Walsh captivated kids in the garden with pollinator games, honey tastings and dressing up as beekeepers.  Led by Tricia Elisara and Gina VanderKam, students played vocabulary-rich “Garden Bingo” and interacted with the outstanding documentary film “Nourish” about global food issues.

Cooking was another key ingredient of the day.  Chef Greg from Healthy Adventures Foundation enlisted students to help make lettuce wraps and flavorful tostadas.  Across campus, Chef Jeremy Manley and Carie Quick talked with students about the new school lunch program (catered by Jeremy’s on the Campus) and had the students brainstorm new menu items.  To tie it all together, Carmen Macias led a game in classifying edible plant parts, decorating a “My Plate” diagram with healthy choices and ending with a fitness activity.  Many parents, Garden Beneficials and other dedicated community members generously gave their day to assisting at each workshop.

To add to this educational banquet, the campus was decorated with posters made by students in the weeks prior, promoting good food and healthy habits.  At 11:00, students gathered on the playground for a scheduled exercise break led by Coach Dobby from the Julian Fitness Center.  Just before starting, however, music came on the load speaker and Principal/Superintendent Kevin Ogden moved to the center of the campus, dancing.  Teachers joined him from all directions, and the first ever flash mob at Julian Elementary was performed, appropriately enough to the song “We can change the world” on a day dedicated to making a healthier world for all of us!

Celebrating Food Day was an idea generated by the school’s Farm to School Team as part of the year-long USDA planting grant awarded to the district and spearheaded by Pathways Executive Director Susi Jones.  To learn more about National Food Day, or to begin planning activities for next year, please visit www.foodday.org and/or contact the Farm to School Coordinator Tricia Elisara for more information.

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Students made these posters in University of Wednesday

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Cranking the cider press (Photo courtesy of Karen Alexander)

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Wait a minute….is that Gina VanderKam playing Garden Bingo? (On a visit from Washington, she was my right hand woman all day!) She is still trying to get the crayon off her fingers….

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How adorable is this?

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An activity to classify the edible parts of the plant

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Working on a “My Plate” activity

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After this class, the girl pictured told me “Best day ever!”

To the USDA and back again

If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that we are in the middle of a USDA Farm to School planning grant.  As part of this grant, representatives from each of the funded districts went to D.C. for a two-day conference last week.

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Ashley, our consultant, me and Susi, Pathways Director in front of the US Department of Agriculture where our meeting was held

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan addressed our group at the Whitten Building.  In her remarks, she said three things I will remember.  One, everyone believes in the Farm to School concept:  kids get healthy food, and local economies are stimulated.  Two, despite the simplicity of the concept, the implementation is very difficult. (I just wrote about that here!)  Three, Farm to School is one of the things the USDA is truly excited about, having invested 4.5 million in this project this year alone. They told us repeatedly that as the first cohort of grant recipients, we are the ones pushing this movement forward, and they are looking forward to seeing what we do and how we do it.  We are grateful for their vision and support.

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To equip us with tools, we had presentations on subjects such as promoting food safety, procuring local food, and marketing our programs.  It was great stuff—kudos to all of the staff who made this possible.

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Our group is incredibly diverse.  A district with 200 students in South Dakota was represented (smaller than us!) as well as districts with dozens of schools and 50,000+ students .  We heard about efforts in sourcing local bison for burgers, introducing salad bars in a state that has never featured them before, and partnering with hometown NFL teams to promote good nutrition on campus. Some of our most valuable moments were chatting with our fellow grant recipients:  What are you doing? How are you doing it?  For example, we struck up a conversation with a group of folks during a break about school lunch vendors—turns out one of them is the star of the new documentary film “Cafeteria Man.”  (http://cafeteriaman.com)

We also got to do a few fun things like dine out at the ah-mazing “farm to table” restaurant Founding Farmers and have a private tour of the Food 1950-2000 exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

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The exhibit, which includes Julia Child’s kitchen, has a long dining table in the middle of the room. On “Lazy Susans” running down the middle of the table, discussion questions and information was presented on the topic of “food pyramids” over time and across cultures. These topics will change, and next up is “school lunch.”

Our White House garden tour was cancelled (sequester!), and so I didn’t get the chance to ask Michelle out to coffee to talk about gardening, parenting, the challenge of being married to busy men, etc.  The upside was that I had some extra time to tack on a breakfast, stroll to the Mall and connect with dear D.C. friends.  Coming up next: the childrens’ garden at the National Botanic Gardens.

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