Fall Fun!

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The students at La Honda Elementary have been working together and with local farmers to support others and their school garden.

This Lompoc school hosts an annual Turkey Trot before Fall Break and three students from each grade win a turkey, a large bag of potatoes or a pumpkin pie as a reward for running the fastest among their peers.

This year, with the help of the School Gardens program, Mrs. McLaren’s 6th graders hosted a mini-market booth featuring a beautiful display of kale, chard, cilantro, braising greens mix, winter squash, corn, eggplant, apples and strawberry plants, amongst other things.

All of the produce at the booth was available for a suggested donation.  The students raised $95 to support La Honda’s school garden!

The students also planned a pumpkin stand; they wrote appeal letters requesting support and pumpkin donations, advertised the fundraiser, and measured and priced the pumpkins for sale.

On the first day of the pumpkin fundraiser, students from all grades swarmed the booth to check out and pick from the selection of pumpkins. It turned out to be an amazing opportunity to illustrate the value of working together to support others in need.  We sold over 35 pumpkins and raised over $100!

Thank you to SLO Creek Farms, Sunny Acres Farm and Cal Poly for their support of our projects!  We are changing our perception of food, where it comes from, and why we need it to be healthy and available to all.

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Should you establish rules for your garden?

rulesAs a garden educator at Ellwood and Isla Vista Schools in Goleta, I’m often ambivalent about garden rules. On one hand, we need to ensure safety for plants and especially students entrusted to us. On the other hand, these kids are bound by rules, walls, and fluorescent lights all day every day, and the garden is a great escape, an oasis. Are too many garden rules stifling their joy? If we want to foster stewardship values and behaviors in these students, shouldn’t we encourage any connection to nature that these kids choose to make, even if a lizard or two dies in the process?  Reasonable people might disagree.

Please read this thoughtful article regarding these questions and more about our role as environmental educators.

December Garden

December Garden

Had a lovely day at Pine Grove yesterday, we drank apple cider with chamomile, read about possible winter break projects-designing a garden and identifying water sources or doing some writing about plant and animal cells, then we sang carols around the tree in the garden.
Thank you, Colleen and it was great to meet some of the amazing students of Pine Grove!

Garden Pass-it-on

This year, was the year of theDSCN0227 butterfly.  Chrysalis’ were everywhere causing near pandemonium at recess.  The garden would be flooded with children begging to hunt for caterpillars and cocoons.  Though I want all children to explore and dig in, there is some management that comes with hordes of children handling insects and wielding trowels.

The solution?  The Garden Pass.  Every recess 6 DSCN0226passes hang on the fence where children can obtain them on a first come, first serve basis.  The passes give them a sense of empowerment in the garden, clarity for the yard-duty about who is being supervised, and something to look forward to at recess for all diggers-of-worms and chrysalis fanatics.

To maximize the amount of children getting in the garden there is a second system that involves the 3rd grade teachers.  Six other garden passes rest in the hands of a third grade teacher.  Each month the passes are handed off to another class of 3rd graders.  At DSCN0222lunch time 6 children are chosen to come eat lunch with the GEM (Garden Education Manager) and then work on a project during lunch recess.  In some classes it is used as a reward system for good behavior, though in all classes every child has a chance to come out and explore.  The Coveted Garden Pass

The Garden Pass has been an excellent solution to the mass chaos.  The only downside is often during the enthusiasm expressed in the garden, passes end up leaving the child’s neck and finding their way into some far-flung part of the garden.  This means I much go on my own after-hours adventures, searching for Garden Passes in the nether lands of perennials or the apple tree forest.  However, I don’t mind joining in the fun, doing a bit of my own exploring!

From Stem to Core – 2012 CA AG in the Classroom Conference

As a first year GEM (Orcutt Academy K-8) Charter), I had the privilege to attend the 2012 Ag in the classroom conference October 25-27 in Sacramento. The conference is a one-of-a kind gathering for inspired and engaged educators representing an incredible variety of professions and interests. It was full of  presenters who believe in Ag literacy. The key-note speaker, Karen Ross, is a leading promoter and protector of agriculture and is Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She spoke on the importance of preserving our agricultural identity and our rich heritage…and that the job cannot be accomplished without dedicated educators!

There were numerous workshops  to choose from and I selected, Creating and Sustaining Your School Garden. We explored resources about garden design, garden bed preparation,  planting,  watering systems, and planning for a year-round harvest. There were many people who had established gardens and some who were just getting started. I was able to share about the success of our School Gardens Program in detail and had a lot of interest. There were several people who met with me after the session and marveled at what we have accomplished in Santa Barbara County! I also attended a second workshop, Engage Students and Practice Common Core Standards and Nutrition by the Dairy Council of California. It focused mainly on nutrition and included a variety of free resources and practice engaging activities that make teaching nutrition easy. I will be teaching a lesson to my students soon. I had a lot of fun at a Make “n” Take session which include lots of fun Ag  crafts for students.

Field trips were fantastic! I chose the West Counties Tour which took us to Syngenta Seeds, Flora Fresh, Inc, and Sterling Caviar. Ask me about the tours sometime! I recommend that GEMs take advantage of this annual conference.

What is Agriculture? FOOD, FIBER, FORESTS, FLOWERS, FUEL!

Rainbow Chips

One of the very first lessons I lead with almost every grade level is a back-pocket activity I learned from the Life Lab Science Program on the UCSC Campus known as “Rainbow Chips”.  The lesson begins with a story (usually suitable to younger age groups…)…..

” A long time ago in a place not too far from here there was a big storm…  Huge grey clouds rushed in over the mountains and covered the land in darkness… all of the colors were sucked up into the clouds and the whole land turned into different shades of grey… The clouds swelled bigger, and became so full that they looked as if they would burst! Which is exactly what they did, the clouds burst open and it began to rain harder than it had ever rained before.  As it rained the clouds began to part and the sun started to peak through.  And you know what happens when it rains and is sunny at the same time…. (kids: a Rainbow!!) That’s right- the biggest Rainbow anyone had ever seen.  It stretched across the sky and as it stretched and stretched the colors got longer and tighter until SMASH – the rainbow cracked and all of the pieces fell down to the ground!  I was lucky enough to pick up some of the pieces and I brought them here for you all today”

The amazing “Rainbow Chips” are paint chips that you can get for free from any hardware store and the students begin their search around the garden- trying to match the colors they find in nature as perfectly as possible.  If the students find a color on a plant that has 10 or more of the same thing (leaves, flowers, etc…) or if it is already off the plant (fallen tomatoes, pumpkins, etc…) they can bring their item with them and create a rainbow as a class.

I have done this activity with preschool and I have done this activity with fourth grade but the kindergarten class I recently had in the garden amazed me with their color-matching abilities!  It was as if the paint chips from Ace Hardware had been created by taking pictures of our garden!

This lesson is a great way to introduce children to the garden and to allow them to explore freely.  I have had students find the most vibrant yellow on a crab spider, or the stripes of a monarch caterpillar.  Hundreds of Harding Students have explored the garden using their eyesight and the beautiful colors found everywhere in nature!

A great book to introduce this lesson (better for older children than the rainbow chips story) is “Living Color” by Steve Jenkins.

Even on Miss Emma's sweater!

Holy Tomatoes!


We are celebrating the wonderful abundance of tomatoes this month at Open Alternative School. The warm summer and warmer fall have led to a most appreciated big harvest. The above board is in a central location where students, teachers and parents regularly check for information. After putting up the bare bones ‘harvest of the month’, the middle school students created artwork highlighting salsa inspired by theydrawandcook.com.

To further celebrate the tomato, we made salsa and bruschetta with grades 3-8. Everyone picked some ingredients; mostly tomatoes but also cilantro, onions, peppers and basil. The only thing we didn’t have was limes for squeezing on the salsa.

We talked about recipes, ratios, personal preference, local food and, of course, knife skills. No one got hurt and everyone ate a lot of salsa and bruschetta!

I look forward to making and eating more of both in the coming months.

Here’s a fun fact: The lycopene in tomatoes helps make our skin less sensitive to UV light damage.

Great news for us gardeners!