Giuliano Perez digs spreading green message to young minds
By Graham Readfern, CourierMail.co.au
“SORRY – I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve not had lunch,” says Giuliano Perez before reaching to pluck a ripe cherry tomato from a vine, followed up with a fresh basil leaf – a kind of on-the-go bruschetta without the bread.
I have already politely declined the offer of some tiny seeds from a ruby red amaranth plant, a native of South America, which look like small black plastic balls.
“Full of vitamin C,” Perez assures me, before swallowing about 20.
We are sitting near the worm farms and compost heaps, across from a scarecrow and in front of the herb spiral on a patch of land which, this time last year, was a bit of lawn next to the Ashgrove State School carpark.
Thanks to Perez, the area has been transformed into an edible garden, packed with vegetables like potatoes, cabbages, lettuce, peas, beans and beet.
But Chilean-born Perez has his eyes on a much larger revolutionary cause than transforming bits of unused grass.
“This garden helps the kids to become active with the environment,” he says in his clipped South American accent. “A whole new world opens up to them. It’s right there in front of their eyes.”
Perez is co-founder and schools co-ordinator for a not-for-profit organisation called Growing Communities, which aims to bring permaculture gardens to schools and neighbourhoods across Queensland – and anywhere else that will have them.
The 42-year-old grew up in a poor family in Chile’s capital Santiago, but came to Australia as he turned 20 and the country’s military president General Augusto Pinochet was still clinging on to power.
“I was at uni doing mining and engineering – totally against what I do now looking at sustainability – but they were the skills Chile needed. But there was a fair bit of political unrest in the north of Chile. The Australian embassy had opened up. There was an opportunity there. I bought a one-way ticket and when I got here, I had $70.”
After spending many years working in the arts as an actor, designer and writer, the West End resident came into gardening through a multicultural garden he helped create at Northey Street City farm in Brisbane’s north.
Now he is a fully fledged, contagiously passionate environmentalist with concerns about climate change, peak oil, child nutrition and availability of local food that’s not been driven half way around Australia.
Budding green thumbs
At Ashgrove State School, the kids want to be gardeners “like Giuliano”.
“If the kids know how to grow their own food, and take control of the seeds and grow these things locally, then we start to address these issues. And we’ll still be able to eat. Truly – what will we do when petrol hits $8 a litre – how much is it going to cost to get that lettuce up from the south of Australia? “The kids grow their own vegetables – they see the cycles of life and the way that tiny seed becomes a plant.
“We use the garden as a vehicle to make the whole school more sustainable – now they have composting systems and a water tank and the scrap from the tuck shop goes into the worm farm.”
What comes from the no-dig raised beds is organic, but the garden uses permaculture principles which while not great on the eye, mean they work with nature, rather than against it.
Father-of-two Perez remembers making a video – now available on YouTube – in which a primary pupil describes why he enjoys harvesting in the school garden.
“We made some salad,” says the boy. “I thought it was so nice. I’ve never eaten salad before.”
Another segment shows kids slicing open a large green marrow-like fruit.
“Whoa . . . it’s red inside,” exclaims one, obviously new to the inner workings of a watermelon.
Perez says it was then he realised how significant his work was. “It was having a real effect on the wellbeing of this new generation,” he says.
“A lot of kids really don’t know where their food comes from. I’d go to a new school and ask them where lettuce comes from, and they all shout Woolworths.
“For them to see that these things don’t come from the supermarket, but from a tiny seed, is just so important for them.
“Vegetables and fruit stop becoming a commodity – kids see that food has a life and a history.”
He insists that he has witnessed young pupils developing “close relationships” with tomato vines.
“You couldn’t get them away from it,” he says. “They tender it and water it and they watch it grow – and they eat the fruit. They are learning to care for each other’s plants and each other’s property and that makes them more careful on the outside world.”
Last month Perez orchestrated the first national school gardens gathering, attracting representatives from all Australian states. But he says since the first pilot project to create two school gardens, Growing Communities has had no government support.
When the Federal Government announced last year that almost $13 million was to go to establish school gardens, Perez was delighted and hopeful. His balloon of enthusiasm was quickly popped, when it emerged all the money would go to the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens program and its focus on healthy eating.
But there has been good news. Perez has just been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to fund an eight-week trip to Argentina, England, Cuba, US and New Zealand to research how edible school gardens are becoming hubs for community food production and environmental learning tools.
“I feel some responsibility – I have to make sure that what I bring back from the trip helps the school gardens movement to grow,” he adds. “We need a garden in every school and people to show kids how they are part of the environment.”
On Friday, July 11, the Fairmont School garden will kick off the third season of the Youth Market. The garden on the south side of the school at 3rd and Fox in the Historic Baker Neighborhood was started 5 years ago with sponsorship from Slow Food, an organization that has given information, advice, and volunteers. A Live Well grant from Kaiser Foundation, administered by Denver Urban Gardens, helps support the summer gardening program and the student-run market.
Fairmont School is a kindergarten through 8th grade school and in the spring the younger classes start planting seeds in their classrooms and nurture them into plants to be transplanted in the garden the last week of school. The Kaiser grant enables a garden manager to be hired and some pay for the older students who maintain the garden and run the market. The students go through an application process to get these jobs. This year there are 12 students in 5th through 8th grades working three days a week, two in the garden and one preparing for and running the market. The market profits go equally to the students and for the next year’s seed and plant purchases.
Valerie Illg, the garden manager, says that the garden is bigger and better than ever this year and will be ready on July 11, weather permitting, to supply the market with a bounty of vegetables, starting with strawberries, radishes, peas and beans and continuing on to tomatoes, peppers, squash, and corn.
This inner-city school garden is a matter of great pride to the students and the neighborhood. Stop by some week-day morning and see the gardening action for yourself. The market will run from July 11 to September 26, every Friday from 3:30-6:00 p.m. by the school parking lot at 3rd and Fox.
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Its not quite fair that summer harvest begins at the close of school. We got our first cherry tomatoes a week before school ended, but no heirlooms, no corn either. Fortunately some of our school gardens are accessible year round and currently zucchini and squash are plentiful.
Try these zucchini/pasta recipes for those who like their pasta both healthy and flavorful. Enjoy!
Zucchini and Pasta 1
Boil water and cook pasta (use whatever kind you like: fusilli, penne, linguini, whatever). Sauté sliced zucchini with garlic, onions and basil in olive oil until softened. Place in Cuisinart and pulse until chunky. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix with cooked pasta and top with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.
Zucchini and Pasta 2
Sauté sliced zucchini with garlic, olive oil, hot red pepper flakes, and fresh mint. Place in Cuisinart and pulse until chunky. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss with cooked pasta. Top with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese.
Summertime also means extra reading time for educators.
HowToDoThings.com has an entire section just for teachers. They include:
10 Gardening Books Guaranteed to Interest your Kids
It’s proven to be therapeutic and a good form of mild exercise, it showcases the results of your hard work in the form of beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, and it beautifies your house in the most natural way – gardening is not just a hobby but an art that requires concentration and patience. It’s fun for kids and a great way to spend time outdoors this summer. So if you’re planning on taking your first gardening steps soon, here are a few books that will guide you along the way to a colorful and beautiful garden:
• Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert: This book introduces children to the rudiments of growing colorful flowers of various varieties.
• The Gardening Book by Jane Bull: A book that offers gardening projects for children who are able to garden without adult supervision.
• From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons: This book teaches kids about the various stages of development a plant goes through and also includes directions and instructions to grow beans.
• A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial: A book that educates kids on the role that plain old dirt plays in the development of plants.
• Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children by Sharon Lovejoy: This book combines instructions for theme gardens and the best plants for children to grow and look after.
• Kids Gardening: A Kid’s Guide to Messing Around in the Dirt/With Seeds, Shovel by Kevin Raftery and Kim Gilbert Raftery: The title of this book is self-explanatory – it shows how kids can have fun with gardening activities.
• The Kids Can Press Jumbo Book of Gardening by Jane Kurisu: This book teaches children to grow organic gardens in small spaces like backyards and balconies.
• New Junior Garden Book by Felder Rushing: This book is for kids who are budding gardeners and includes complete project activities both outdoor and indoor purposes.
• Gardening with Children by Beth Richardson: A book that teaches parents to get their children interested and involved in gardening.
• A Guide to Happy Family Gardening by Tammerie Spires: This book gets the whole family involved in gardening projects that are easy to implement.
This guest post is written by Heather Johnson, who frequently writes on the subject of online college degrees. She welcomes your comments and freelance writing inquiries at: email@example.com
Students grow lunches
By Jennifer Moody, Albany Democrat-Herald
LEBANON — Lebanon’s summer food program will feature a new entree: salad a la Seven Oak.
Salad greens grown at Seven Oak Middle School have already hit that cafeteria. Now, the greens will be served as part of the free lunches distributed every summer at various locations.
Plenty of schools in the fertile Willamette Valley have gardens, but very few grow food to be consumed by students. That may change as food and transportation prices rise and schools look for new ways to motivate healthy choices.
Students at Seven Oak already had a flower garden and a couple of greenhouses. This spring, teachers Rick George and Mark Gullickson joined forces with several Master Gardeners to dig out the first 55-by-125-foot area for five raised-bed plots. More are planned.
By fall, the garden is expected to be producing two to three bushels of corn, along with tomatoes, strawberries and more for the Seven Oak cafeteria.
“We wanted to get the kids a little more nutrition-conscious, and thought if they planted the seed and watered and actually grow the food, they’re going to be more apt to want to eat nutritionally, we think,” George said.
Definitely, said 12-year-old Crystal Pitney, especially if strawberries are involved. “Are you kidding me?” she said, beaming.
The garden is a community effort. Volbeda Dairy donated manure. Students in the district’s YouthBuild program will help irrigate. Master Gardeners Barbara Rowe, Sheryl Casteen and Walt Rebmann brought the salad green starts, helped plant and did the initial tilling, respectively.
If school were still in session, the 200 pounds of lettuce would be enough to feed the entire district — about 2,500 children — every 10 days until the freezes come, said Pam Lessley, Lebanon’s director of nutrition services.
Not every child has hot lunch at school, and some of those who do choose to skip the vegetables, so it’s hard to know how far the garden will go, Lessley said. Right now, she agrees, all the expected produce wouldn’t cover the entire district on a daily basis, or even Seven Oak’s usual 280 daily diners. But it’s a start, and it’s going to expand, Lessley said. And it may help save on produce, which means more money for other foods.
Said George, one of the teachers: “We have to walk before we can run.”Food prices have skyrocketed in the past months, and school lunch programs are being hit particularly hard.
Milk prices were 13.5 percent higher this April than they were in April 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Bread was up 14.1 percent from a year ago. Fruits and vegetables were up 1.4 percent as a group this year, on top of a 4.4 percent hike last year.
The federal government repays schools between 23 cents and $2.47 for every meal served, but only if schools meet certain food-group standards. Cutting corners means risking loss of the reimbursement.
But the reimbursement no longer goes as far, said Joyce Dougherty, director of child nutrition services for the Oregon Department of Education, and cost-of-living increases of 2 to 3 percent aren’t going to keep up. Money that used to pay for 15 cases of applesauce, say, may now cover only 10.
Lebanon, like most of the districts in the mid-valley, is raising meal prices for students this fall. But Lessley worries the situation may be even worse by then.
“Prices have raised dramatically, and almost all of my purveyors are charging a fuel charge ranging from $3 to $5 a stop,” she said. “I have been in food service for 20 years, and it’s the highest it’s ever been.”
Oregon’s lawmakers are getting into the local idea. The Oregon Farm to School act, signed into law last year, created a special position in the Department of Agriculture specifically to develop links between schools and local growers.
Seven Oak’s garden isn’t part of that initiative, but coordinator Cory Schreiber says it’s in line with what the state wants: give farmers a hand, get kids to eat more vegetables and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions by keeping produce closer to home.
Schreiber said he’s heard of a handful of Oregon schools growing produce to eat, but most don’t.
Timing is part of the problem. The bulk of the harvest often comes in summer, when classes aren’t in session. Also, growing for an entire student body every day would take land and labor most districts don’t have.
Safety also could be a concern, said Rick Sherman, director of food service for Greater Albany Public Schools. He said he wouldn’t be convinced that a school meets the same safety standards as a national company.“We get local produce, but through Sysco and reputable dealers,” Sherman said. “If you go through reputable dealers that have $2 million of insurance you’re really covered a lot more.”
But Dougherty, the state’s director, said schools can use the same food-safety practices as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And sometimes, the locally-grown items are safer than the national ones. Case in point: the salmonella currently prompting fast-food chains to yank all traces of tomatoes.
“What we do know is that kids who work in gardens, whether in school food service or in a tasting party in their classrooms, they eat more fruits and vegetables and try more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We want schools to have as many gardens as they can.
”Sixth-grader Paige Stagg, of Seven Oak agrees.“I myself have never gardened, so this is a huge new experience for me,” said the 11-year-old, pausing from raking manure into the beds. “Now, if I actually needed to, I could keep going.”
It was in the ’90s that butterfly gardens took off like a Monarch searching for her host plant, the elusive butterfly weed. Today butterfly gardens abound in the Lowcountry, and that’s as it should be — where there are butterflies there are bees, and we know how important both are to our environment.
The Environmental Club of Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School is discovering the effects of pollution, litter eradication and beautification through the establishment of a butterfly garden for use as an outdoor classroom. Through the efforts of teacher and class leader Amy Tressler, a project description of the garden was sent to the Palmetto Pride anti-litter curriculum in Columbia to establish a grant.
Behind the school there is space for a garden, and what the Environmental Club needed next was someone to put it together. That someone was Karen Geiger of Creative Gardens who had heard of the club through her son Christopher, a club member, and who donated her staff and time to design and plant a flower garden with emphasis on the native plants that butterflies love.
On a beautiful day in May, the established garden was dedicated. Principal Jill McAden introduced the Environmental Club members and POA President Suzanne Johnson, Amy Tessler and Karen Geiger. McAden spoke of Geiger’s devotion to the project: “she did not just do it, but took the time to explain to the students the nature of each plant.”
The base of the garden is a load of Broad Creek sludge that was dumped, spread on the ground and dug in. More than 20 varieties of flowering plants were set in; the final step was the spreading of a thick layer of Greenkeeper bagged mulch. In the center of the garden were small clay pots that were painted by the club members and placed on their sides to serve as houses for toads.
Butterflies, bees, birds and toads will come, for this garden is bursting with bloom. Looking at it, one can’t help but think how lucky we are to live where such a flower garden will bloom for most of the year.
It’s worth noting that many plant varieties that are grown as annuals in a less temperate zone, are perennial here. The Monarch butterfly is doing her business on butterfly weeds in February as the once annual butterfly weed in colors of yellow and orange (Asclepias curassavica) has become perennial with flowers all year, or until caterpillars chew up flower and stem. Fortunately, this prolific self-seeder regroups in a matter of weeks, providing more flowers for more butterflies. The native butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa can be found flowering now in our wooded lots. Smart gardeners leave it be; the plant is endangered locally, and is difficult to transplant.
Perennials echinacea (coneflower) and rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) are available now in colors other than purple and yellow.”Tiki Torch” echinacea is the darkest orange coneflower to date and, has massive 4- to 5-inch diameter flowers. Other perennials in the environmental garden are salvia in colors of red and blue, Society garlic, daylilies, plumbago, coreopsis, blue ruellia and native grasses. The smaller plants, lantana, petunias, portulaca and zinnias are used along the borders. The taller canna plants and shrub roses provide a colorful background and protection from the wind that butterflies need.
Driving home from the dedication, I felt inspired to add more butterfly plants to my garden. Unfortunately I’ve not enough sun to plant a garden but make do by placing plants that attract butterflies in the few sunspots that exist. I keep stones in sunny places for butterflies to perch and bask in the sun. Basking raises their body temperature so they are able to remain active. Butterflies need water too; make a mud puddle for them to drink from, and remember to plant extra parsley and dill plants for the black swallowtail, whose caterpillar can eat either or both plants to the ground and in a few hours.
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