Back to school, back to the garden

It’s still August, and we’ve been in school for 2.5 weeks.  (I know, I know.)  Nonetheless, it has been wonderful to be back out in the garden with the lovable children of Julian Elementary.

During our first afterschool garden class with the little ones, we read stories about grapes and then gobbled some up.  (It was my first time reading  Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini, and I recommend this retelling of an Aesop’s Fable—great vocabulary and beautiful illustrations.)  Though we had a lovely crop of grapes at the beginning of the school year, the kids have been loving them too as they walk by the fence line and so we supplemented with a donation of organic grapes from Miss Anne!  (A note on the whiteboard in the staff room turned up an offer of backyard produce in no time.)

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The older children in my second garden class painted letters for our Early Start Kindergarten alphabet garden and spruced up the compost bucket.  This was a good, quiet activity in the shade on a very hot day.  And helpful too—every year these letters have to be repainted.

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“S” for sage….sweltering…in the sun….

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In garden class during the school day, I worked with first grade students on understanding the recipe for compost using the visual aid I made below.  The laminated pictures stick to the black bin (foam board) with velcro:

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Then we headed out to the garden to practice sorting and adding ingredients at the bin and peeking in the bottom of the unit to see what became of last year’s school lunch.

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I heart generating excitement and mystery in the garden.  During our introduction to the lesson in the classroom, I told the kids to always be on the lookout for something new in the garden and wondered aloud if anyone would notice the brand new “Mr. Tree.”  Invariably someone would spot it on our way to the compost bins.

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(Sidenote:  Marisa gave me the pieces for this “tree face,” Chris hung it, and I love it so much.  It is my new goal to put a face on every juniper behind the fence line and create our own army of ents.)

While I had half of the class at the bins, the classroom teacher had the other half under the plum tree reading Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals.

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With the two kindergarten classes, we talked about grapevines and our first garden rule for the year:  Be Safe.  We decided we would practice “being safe” by walking in the garden instead of running.

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While the classroom teacher read The Fox and the Grapes by Mark White, I toured the children around four major features in the garden, and we learned these vocabulary words:  Kandu Gate, rainwater, grapevine and gazebo.  At each location I gave a child a photo of the feature to hold (printed from a picture and laminated—I plan to make a set of these for everything in the garden for games and vocabulary review.)

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Then when we returned to the classroom for wrap-up, we sang:

“Have you ever seen a garden, a garden, a garden?  Have you every seen a garden? A garden like mine?  With a gate, and rainwater, and grapevines and a gazebo?  Have you ever seen a garden, a garden like mine? “

This is a song I will sing all year long with the younger grades, inserting new, seasonal vocabulary.

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It’s going to be a great year!  (Signing off with a picture of the invaluable cart I wheel around with everything I need in the classroom and out in the garden.)  BTW, as of today, I am about 200 clicks short of 30,000 views on this blog.  Thanks ever so much for following our story as it unfolds in our little school garden…..

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Humanities in the garden and kitchen (ESY Part 4)

Something garden educators believe:  all subjects can be taught in the garden.  Something I believe:  this is true, but some subjects are easier to teach in the garden than others.  Science and math come easily, and language arts is not hard to incorporate either.  I think the most challenging curricular integration is social science.  It takes a lot of planning to align lessons, plant the historical crops and create the wrap-around materials to deliver the material.  Edible Schoolyard excels at this.  Here is one of their staff laying out how all of their garden and kitchen lessons match up with 6th, 7th and 8th grade social science.

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Then they walked us through one of their lessons.  As you can see below, there are numerous concepts involved in teaching the history of rice in China.  (This is hand-drawn and colored—again, back to beauty!)

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Then they laid out all of the vegetables we’d be cooking with (beauty, again)….

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And we got cooking in our teams….

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..to create the most beautiful and delicious platter of fried rice, with veggies from the garden.IMG_6497

Here’s another lesson they teach:

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We rotated through various stations to learn this content, one of which was a snack-making station, which involved amaranth from the garden.

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It goes on….here we ate a meal in the dining commons that represents the Columbian Exchange.  Like I said, amazing.

Activities in the garden also teach history.  Here is a lesson on various techniques ancient cultures used to move things.  After this mini-lesson, students were challenged…IMG_6412

 

…to move various heavy items using this pile of stuff.  History, engineering, experiential learning…oh my.

 

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Other activities work as scavenger hunts in the garden:

IMG_6414Can an average school garden replicate this?  It would be very challenging without significant resources, but nonetheless I remain inspired to think through connections between the garden and the social sciences in the coming year.  It’s always helpful and inspiring to look at the “best of the best”—thank you Edible Schoolyard for pioneering this work!

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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The low-hanging fruit?

If you’ve been to Julian, you’ll know we are associated with one thing above all else:  apples.  Orchards, apple pie, the annual Apple Days celebrations, apple-themed gifts in the shops, etc.

Say Julian–think apples.

And every day in our cafeteria we serve apples from Oregon and Washington State, even when Julian apples are in season.

This is one of a million ways in which our food systems are disconnected. It happens all around the world, to the detriment of our planet (all that transportation!) and our palate (stored and shipped food is often inferior, for obvious reasons.)

Naturally, in my role as Farm to School planning grant director, this is one of the first things I’m tackling.  And as simple as it sounds—swap out one apple vendor for another—it’s really very complicated, in ways that you can only appreciate when you dive into the specifics of the ways things are, as I’ve been doing.

Big thought for the day: systemic change is hard.

But not hopeless.  We are working away diligently on the ways things could be by investigating how to get local apples and pears onto our school lunch menu.

Until then, we’re going to do one better:  plant apple trees on our campus.

Yesterday the organizer of the newly-formed Julian Apple Growers Association, Teak Nichols, came by school to spend the afternoon putting bare root trees in the ground with our Garden Ambassadors.  Raised here in Julian, Teak has a passion for preserving the collective knowledge base, economic importance and cultural resource of apples.  So we worked with a handful of kids to enlarge our small orchard.  He’ll be back to teach pruning, and I imagine many other things as we connect his group with our efforts at school.

Teak had just asked a question like, “Who wants to plant the Fuji?”  Um, is the enthusiasm of these kids coming across?

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Under Teak’s instruction, the kids dug the holes, properly sited the trees, filled them in, watered, staked, labeled and wrapped sunburn protection around the trunks.  (Notice their official gear.  The shirts were meant for formal occasions, but these kids love any excuse to put on their ambassador shirts.)

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Beautiful weather, outdoor education, the promise of fruit, excited kids….I’m not great at containing my excitement.

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

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Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Seed packet literacy

To continue with my pea-brained ideas….

For Wednesday’s garden class, I had the class plant a bed of peas.  Before we went out to the garden, we talked about “how to read a seed packet.” I copied the front and back of a packet and added questions around the perimeter.  This was our opening activity.

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Notice how the students have to look closely for the information in order to answer the question.  To answer the question on trellises, they have to notice the adjective “self-supporting.”  To know what days we should expect a pea, they have to find the “days to maturity.”

Then I gave each child a different seed packet.  (I have lots, obviously.)  I then asked them to form a line across the room, based on the name of their flower/vegetable, in alphabetical order. They had to talk to each other and shuffle themselves, A to Z.  When they were in place, I asked them to read off their seed name, to see if we got it right!  Then we did it again, according to “days to maturity” with one end of the spectrum being the shortest, the other the longest.  It was fun to compare radishes at one end with onions at the other.

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At that point, we had to get planting, but you could keep going with this game, having the kids line up according to planting depth, Latin names, months to plant, etc.  Each one will demonstrate the different needs of plants as well as help kids look closely at all that information on a seed packet.

Garden as hangout space

In the intial brainstorming about the garden at the junior high (“the Living Room”), it was agreed that one of the major objectives for this space was to create a green, inviting garden space in which kids would want to hang out.  To this end, we wrote a grant for a BBQ, six tables, and 8 benches.  They arrived right before vacation, and last Sunday afternoon a team of kids, parents, staff (and staff spouses!) put them in place.

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Poles were sunk in the ground to keep the tables steady and in place.

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Benches were set throughout the garden for extra seating.

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Volunteers are the first to try out the benches!

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A few benches are also placed around campus.

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Volunteer students also try them out!

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Look at this brand new social space!  Let the hanging out begin!

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Thank to everyone who came out and worked to improve this space for the junior high students!

Outdoor food prep station? Check!

I mentioned that Whole Foods Foundation and Food Corps funded an outdoor food prep station in the garden.  To review, this is what the area looked like before:

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A deck was built to fit the space…

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…and a split-level “food prep station” added!  (The two levels are for lower and upper grade-sized kids.)

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Stainless steel sinks can be used to wash produce with fresh water from dispensers.

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Buckets in cabinets below catch the water to reuse on plants.

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Sinks can be covered with cutting boards to increase work space.

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Both sides have electrical outlets for simple appliances, such as our pizza oven and wok.  We also purchased a solar over.  I’ve been keeping my eyes open at garage sales for other tools such as a salad spinner and a flat grill/panini press.

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The stage is set for great culinary and educational outcomes!