Good Food Day of Service 2012

Good Food Day at LA Leadership Academy

The 2012 Mayor’s Day of Service in Los Angeles aka Good Food Day LA is a citywide event focused on strengthening and celebrating our local food system.

On Saturday, March 31, volunteers throughout Los Angeles will be working together engaging in activities in support of good food at nearly forty different event sites including many community gardens and school gardens.

To find an event location near you, click on the Good Food Day map or download the PDF List of Activities from the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

I’ll be volunteering at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy HS Urban Farm Project, 234 East Avenue 33, Los Angeles, 90031 from 9:00 am – 1:00 pm.

The Network for a Healthy California will be holding bi-lingual nutrition education classes and healthy food tastings. UC Master Gardeners will be giving workshops in seed starting, transplanting and container gardening.

Come join us as a participant or come join us as a volunteer. Either way come out and support Los Angeles by helping to create a more healthy, fair and sustainable food system.

Hope to see you there.

Tools for School Giveaway from Garden Tool Co.

Garden Tool Company will give three lucky schools a gift certificate for $500 dollars, so they can pick the tools that will help their school garden program the most.

How to Enter
Are you with a school or do you know of a school that has a garden program and could benefit from some garden tools for the students?

If so, just send us an email from the school’s email system and tell us about your gardening program and how you’re school and the kids could benefit from winning these tools. (One entry per school please and schools located in the United States)

Send your email to: schools@gardentoolcompany.com

On April 1st, 2012 we’ll pick three lucky winners and contact them via their email address.

Edible Petioles

celery

Pop quiz: When we’re eating celery what part of the plant are we consuming?

A celery stalk, the part of the celery plant we eat, is a special part of the leaf structure called a petiole. A petiole is a small stalk that attaches the leaf blade of a plant to the stem.

Can you name any other edible petioles?

rhubarb

If you said rhubarb, you are correct.

What about stems?  What are the tastiest stems on the planet?

Arguably asparagus.

For more info see Edible Leafs: Spinach, Celery, and Artichokes

 

A Clothing Garden – Growing Cotton and Flax

raw cotton and cotton seeds

Raw Cotton and Cotton Seeds

We make a big deal about where our food originates from, but what about our clothing? Sure much of it is man-made chemistry, but natural plant fibers also contribute greatly to our daily wardrobes. Think of t-shirts, sweaters, and skirts made of cotton and shirts, pants and jackets made from linen. All originated as plants.

Cotton is a soft, fluffy, natural fiber that grows into a boll, or protective capsule around the seeds of the cotton plant. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal.

No one knows exactly how old cotton is but archeologists have found cotton bolls and pieces of cloth in Mexican caves that date back 7,000 years. In Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun, and woven into cloth as early as 3,000 B.C.

Linen is considered to be one of the earliest products known to civilization. It is made from the inner stalk of the flax plant and one of the first vegetable fabrics to be woven. It is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather.

There is evidence of cloth being made from linen in Mesopotamia and in Turkey as far back as 7000 to 8000 BC.  The flax plant that it comes from is believed to have first been domesticated in the area known as the Fertile Crescent. Mummies in Egypt were routinely wrapped in linen.

For info on how to grow cotton see Instructions for Planting Cotton Seeds from CottonsJourney.com.

For more information about Cultivating Flax see fact sheet from Department of Horticulture, Purdue University.

Clothing Garden Curriculum Suggestions:

1) Geography
Flax plants are believed to have originated in the area known as the Fertile Crescent aka “The Cradle of Civilization” Can you locate this area on a map? Why do you think linen clothing was popular in this region?

2) Math
It takes a patch of land of about 20 feet square to grow enough cotton for one common blouse. How many square feet would you need for 12 dozen blouses?

3) History
Cotton is woven into our American History because of Slavery and the Civil War. How did cotton figure into both of these events?

4) Art
Design an outfit for a scarecrow using only cotton and linen.

Reflections on a New School Garden

By James Gardeneer, Principal, Austin Road Elementary School, Mahopac, NY

I think we can all agree it has been an unusual winter.  It’s now the end of the first week in February and we still have no snow on the ground.  The temperatures are frequently hitting the low 50’s, and there are reports of birds already beginning their spring migration back to the northeast. Despite the unusual weather, and my desire for at least one significant snowfall, I am already turning my thoughts to spring, to warm sun, and of course, to our new school garden.  When I look out on our now dormant beds, I see one thing.  Potential.  Potential for our school to completely integrate a new learning environment into the fabric of our school culture.

As a former life science, biology, and AP environmental teacher (for over 20 years), my transition to an elementary principal 18 months ago was, at times, dramatic.  However, the one goal I did want to pursue was to incorporate as much science into our elementary program as possible and, in particular, get students out into the field to observe, to record, to enjoy nature, where it deserves to be enjoyed – outdoors.

With support from teachers and our amazing PTO volunteers, we created a proposal to build a school garden on our grade 1-5 campus.  Despite the fact that this was not an inexpensive proposition, our PTO generously approved the project and lent their full financial support to the endeavor.   The garden was completed in late July of 2011, just in time for our summer reading camp participants to plant our first small crop.

Our 630 students returned in the fall to an amazing new structure on campus.  To say that anticipation was high would be an understatement.  Our students energetically jumped into planting over 700 seedlings in our new Austin Road garden.  The majority of our teachers participated in this first round of fall planting, and those that did not, did express some regret at not doing so.  It gave me great joy to see many classes going out in the garden throughout the fall as they measured, made drawings, and examined their plants to see the amazing growth.  Students seemed relaxed and happy outdoors even when getting their hands dirty.  Despite a freak 16″ snowfall at Halloween, many of the plants survived and continued being observed and examined by our students throughout most of November.  Staff too went to the garden to pick some of the lettuce and bok choy plants for home use.  In late November, we blew out the water lines and officially buttoned things up for the winter.

Now as we move into mid-February, I realize that we have a lot of planning and work ahead.  Good work and with great potential for positive outcomes.  With the help of TGS, we have been contacting other schools to “borrow” curriculum ideas and suggestions.  In addition to administrative and teacher input, we have parent volunteers that are very much a part of all of our planning.  We even have one amazing 3rd grader, Max, who is heading up our organic insect control research.  Could he be a future world famous botanist or entomologist?  Only time will tell.

Once again, our PTO has backed our most recent requests with additional financial support.   With their generous help we are bringing an outside curriculum consultant to our school to help create a planting schedule, design activities and lessons, and integrate our garden into our school curriculum.  Everyone agrees that we don’t need another “add on.”  The school day is already too busy for that.  Therefore, our goal is to make our garden part of the school itself.  Our hope is to make it as integrated into our student’s lives as the playground itself.  When this happens, and I am convinced it will, I will feel satisfied that the true potential of our garden has been realized.  In the meantime, we are all, students, teachers and parents alike, enjoying the process of building a school garden program.

As we move into the 21st century, our students are immersed in a technological world.  Yet they also need real life experiences in nature.  In my humble opinion, they will certainly benefit from planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting a vegetable.  To me, this is where true learning and greater appreciation for our global resources is born and thrives.  Who knows what impact these experiences will have on their overall life?

About Teich Garden Systems
Teich Garden Systems custom designs and installs animal-resistant, sustainable school, community and residential garden systems for gardeners of all ages and abilities. Teich Garden Systems require very little upkeep and maintenance enabling you to enjoy your garden’s bounty with minimal effort. www.teichgardensystems.com

Integrated Pest Management in the School Garden

aphids on tomato plant

aphids on tomato plant

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the term we use to describe the methods involved in controlling animals and insects in the garden.  Before listing them it is important to point out the following:

1) Not all insects in the garden are harmful. Familiarize yourself with who the good bugs aka beneficials are and those that do the most harm.

Good Bugs – See Meet the Beneficials, a pdf poster from IPM Online, University of California Davis that illustrates the various natural predators and parasites that feed on common garden pests.

Bad Bugs – See Plant Pest Identification Chart from Dept of Entomology, Texas A&M University .

2) Frequent monitoring of your plants is essential. Don’t let a little problem become a big problem. The earlier a problem is addressed the more quickly and easily it can be solved. Careful inspection of your plants should be done on a regular basis. If you’re fortunate enough to own a greenhouse careful monitoring of your pants indoors is recommend as well. (If you’re in the UK, Argos has a great range of greenhouses.)

3) Some level of damage can be tolerated. A few wormholes on your leaves is not going to destroy your plant. However if unchecked, and they start feeding on the grow tip the plant will not mature.

These are five methods of IPM:

1) Plant Selection
A healthy plant is better able to withstand its environment than one that is stressed by improper fertilization, irrigation, or being planted out of season. Remember to plant cool-weather crops in the fall (in California) and warm weather crops in the spring.

Plant selection also includes the planting of specialized crops. Some plant varieties are more susceptible to pests than others. Choosing the right variety may be all that is necessary to ensure a healthy plant. For example tomatoes labeled with a VFN designation are better able to resist the diseases caused by Verticillium, Fusarium viruses and Nematodes (microscopic worms that feed on plant roots). This information will be readily available in most seed catalogs.

2) Physical Barriers
A good example of physical barrier is a fence. If deer or rabbits are a problem in your garden the area will need to be fenced. Bury the fence about one foot deep to keep burrowing animals out. If gophers are a problem you will need to place chicken wire below your raised bed. Floating row covers and bird netting are other examples of physical barriers.

3) Traps
Insect traps use pheromones, visual lures or food to attract pests and capture them. Pheromones are the substances female insects use to sexually attract males to them. Visual lures use colors and shapes to attract pests.  A good example of a trap is the yellow sticky card that keeps whiteflies off your tomatoes. Aphids and white flies as well as other small flying insects are attracted to the yellow color and are then entrapped in the glue. They are not effective in a very large area but for a small school garden they are effective.

Another example of a trap is to lay a wooden board down in your pathway raised a few inches on one end to attract snails. They will try to hide there during the day. Simply turn the board over and remove the snails.

4) Biological Controls
Biological Controls rely on the use of living organisms called natural enemies or beneficials to eat or kill the pests. Two well-known beneficials are ladybugs and green lacewings.

Another biological control is BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), a microorganism that occurs naturally. It is very effective with worms and caterpillars that congregate on the underside of green leaves such as beets and chard as well as on the leaves of the entire Brassica family. BT is diluted with water and sprayed onto the underside of leaves.

5) Pesticides
Pesticides are used as a last resort. If you must use a pesticide, choose the least toxic yet most effective product that targets the pest but does not also kill natural enemies or is harmful to pets and other animals. Insecticidal soaps usually fit this bill. To learn more about pesticides see National Pesticide Information Center.

For more detailed information on IPM, see Pests Listed According to Vegetable.

A Garden School Grows in Africa

Students at MDFT Primary School

Our story begins with David Gido, Headmaster of the Making a Difference Foundation Tanzania (MDFT) Garden School, a small primary school in Arusha, Tanzania, the gateway to the best Safaris in Africa.

As a teacher, David wanted to do something about the growing number of HIV/AIDS orphans that were not attending primary school. He started tutoring about 10 children after school and the numbers soon grew. He then enlisted the help of a few of his school colleagues and paid them from his own meager salary. Soon, kids as young as 3 years old were walking very long distances to attend David’s school, which by now became the only viable education option for many of these families whose parents make on average about $2-$3 a day. Although there is currently a government initiative for change, most Tanzanian public schools are not free and parents must pay fees along with buying uniforms and supplies.

David grew up as an orphan himself. He was born in Rwanda, where his father was killed in the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts.  His mother returned to her native Tanzania, and as is common, David was not well accepted by his new stepfather’s family. As a result, he has a soft heart for indigent children who face a life of extreme poverty and difficulty because of circumstances outside their immediate control.

David felt such empathy that with his own money he rented a building and started a school. His objective was both simple and lofty – to create an education model that can make a profound and lasting difference in the students’ lives in order to transform their future. It is his wish to educate Tanzanian’s next scientists, business entrepreneurs, social developers and decision makers.

Around this time a kinship began on Facebook between David and Matinga Ragatz, an innovative and dynamic high school teacher in Michigan. Among her many accomplishments, Matinga was named Michigan Teacher of the Year for 2010/11 and in 2011 became a NASA certified Educator.

Matinga immediately felt a kinship with David as a teacher that aims out of the box.

“We began to dream together,” she said. “David wants to provide an education that truly makes a real impact in these young kid’s lives. We are collaborating on this prototype hoping to collect data and demonstrate an effective education model that can help transform the skills needed to provide a better quality of life for our students as well as for their community.”

One of their benefactors is Todd “TJ” Duckett. He is a former NFL running back and now a philanthropist and founder of New World Flood, an organization focused on encouraging young people to take up the slack during the economic down turn through volunteering and service to their communities. TJ visited the MDFT primary school in the summer of 2011 and is the inspiration behind the naming of the school farm, the Flood Garden.

On the MDFT blog, David explains it this way, “We decided to call our little farm the Flood Garden because we intend to flood our community with children who are skilled and able to take up the current economic slack and help fix the immediate issues in their own communities. We also want to FLOOD the community with innovative ways to improve their diet, income and budgets from the ideas of our little urban farm.”

From the start, the school farm was imagined as an integral part of the school.

“The school farm would help us diversify our income, start a parent cooperative where they could exchange sweat equity for school fees, create outdoor classrooms to lessen overcrowding within the traditional 4 walls, replace the immediate need for traditional books, labs and other conventional resources (the farm is the best textbook!!), introduce a better diet for our school meals program, create Kitchen Garden models to spread to our community the idea of growing one’s own food in a crowded, low income urban setting, and among many, many other things, create a place were our teachers could learn and innovate their lessons and skills every day!”

The MDFT teachers, although young, are very enthusiastic about participating in the Flood Garden learning model. The idea of making a Maasai style house as an outdoor kitchen came from them.  They are interested in teaching history to the students by showing them traditional Maasai building techniques. Currently the teachers make less than $1,000 a year, which is not enough to provide them with a living wage, so the teachers sleep in the school at night.

Along with this dedicated teaching staff, David has been able to gather support from parents, students and community members. Because they are low on funds they are able to find resources in the form of knowledge, materials, and care. One of the first people they met was Cecilia, a local community member with a degree in Agriculture who is turning her property into a nursery for exotic plants and ponds. Cecilia has been incredibly supportive and generous with her time consulting with the school staff on horticultural matters.

The MDFT Garden School is like a small seedling. There is still much room for growth.

Phase 1 is the current Primary School Garden (ages 2-7) with an emphasis on curriculum and self-sufficiency.

Phase 2 will be to expand the school physically to allow students to continue their education throughout their school careers (ages 8+).

As Matinga explains, “We want to study the impact of our education model on the future economic opportunities of our students but we cannot do that if our students leave our system at age 8.”

To this end David and Matinga are hoping to purchase 10+ acres of land that would allow them to:
a) build additional space for the school
b) expand farming efforts to provide a better meal plan for the students
c) expand the farm (both crops and fish ponds) to create a surplus they could sell
d) build dormitories and provide a better environment for the homeless children
e) expand the farm to create a Farm Cooperative for widowed mothers
f) expand their project-based education model to provide an innovative Career/Technology Education program for middle and high school students.

Unfortunately, there are currently no funds available for these programs. In the near future we hope to initiate a Kickstarter.com program as well as other fundraising efforts to raise money and awareness.

I’ll keep you posted.

Teachers at MDFT Flood Garden

Left to right (a friend of the teachers), David Gido (in blue plad), Teacher Loveless (pink vest), Head Teacher Jackie (in Red), MDFT Parent helper (in back), Teacher Nixon (in black jacket), Vanessa (5 year old MDFT student) on the day we broke ground