Written by Mckenna Lenhart, AmeriCorps Fellow 2018-2019
This year, Laguna Middle School received a grant to both inspire healthy eating and cultivate a better understanding of where our food comes from. The funds were used to purchase kitchen equipment to ensure freshness, install a hydroponic tower, facilitate an outdoor education teacher training, and re-build the campus garden into a culinary herb garden. While each of these elements are equally important, I want to share with you a story about the garden. What currently stands, safely tucked away behind the campus, is the result of efforts made by community members, students, the food service staff, teachers, and so many more.
The garden began as a weed infested, ground squirrel kingdom... pretty much a barren land of nothingness. Numerous teachers had tried to rehabilitate the space, but with the lack of extra time on their hands, nothing stuck. I spent about one hour on the first day of rehabilitation staring at the area, wondering where to even begin. As time went on, students began to take notice of the slow transformation and curiosity drew them in. I even had a few eager volunteers shoveling hard, compacted soil from each bed, often in the pouring rain! Over the next 5 months we lined each of the planter boxes with hardware cloth and built fencing for protection against critters. We amended our soil with compost, removed weeds, spread mulch, painted the shed, designed an outdoor classroom, built a greenhouse, started seeds, transplanted starts, authored a Garden to Cafeteria Manual for the Public Health Department, and installed a composting system. By the end of May, One Cool Earth had hosted over 130 garden club meetings as well as both a Family Cooking Night and Teacher Training, and multiple classes including Math and English as a Second Language had frequented the garden for a lesson.
This summer we are going to nurture our baby plant starts into adults, and return in the fall with vengeance for our Garden to Cafeteria program. Laguna Middle School will be serving flavor enhancing herbs as well as funky and interesting veggies to its students. We will also be hosting a handful of after-school farmers markets, and weekly garden club meetings.
It has been quite a year! When you receive the opportunity to observe kids light up when they see that a seed has sprouted, or that they can actually eat bright orange Nasturtium flowers, it makes all of the hard work worth it. Please join us in achieving our mission of powering healthy, happy and smart youth!
By Jimmy Spiegel, OCE Intern
According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, children are averaging seven and a half hours in front of electronic media a day taking away from valuable time they should be spending outdoors. This time outside is not only good for getting exercise but a necessity in order to energize the brain for kids to focus and do well in school.
While any time spent moving outside is beneficial and protects students from the short and long-term changes to the brain caused by low physical activity, quality time connected with nature may provide additional benefits. Francis Kuo, professor of environmental sciences and psychology at the University of Illinois studies the connection between environmental factors and social, psychological, and physical health. Her research supports the idea that nature is essential to these components of human health and wellness. Keo reminds us that humans are organisms and the environment is our habitat, and disconnecting from that habitat has some seriously negative outcomes on our wellness. She finds children who have exposure to nature are less stressed, have better attention, and are less likely to suffer from attention deficit disorder.
Connecting back with our natural habitat is where One Cool Earth comes in to help! Bringing children into the garden creates the opportunity for an educational environment containing a diversity of living ecosystems providing the social, psychological, and physical health benefits of connecting with the earth. This sets up children for a life full of the wellness received through connection with nature. National surveys found people who reported picking vegetables, taking care of plants, or living next to a garden in childhood to be more likely to continue gardening as they age forming lasting positive relationships with gardens and trees.
Garden Essay by Los Ranchos Elementary by Kathleen Greer's 3rd Grade Class
Imagine this... tall trees filled with bright yellow juicy lemons, green stalks of broccoli pushing through the ground, and bright red radishes. In my opinion, every school should have a school garden. A school garden is a wonderful place to learn outside, you get to eat what you grow, and you can be a social butterfly.
The school garden is a great place to learn. Garden class taught us all about the water cycle. For example, we were taught about permeable and impermeable. Permeable means that water
can go through the surface. Impermeable means water cannot go through the surface so it runs off. Therefore, I learned about how the water that runs off flows to different places. The Water Drops game taught us how water flows in nature. I also found out what happens to water in a city when we used the city water model. I now can look at my garden to see how the water is moving and I can find ways to make my own garden even better. I learned how to care of nature and what is in nature. Do you want a beautiful garden? Garden class teaches us the difference between weeds and plants. You will never mistake a plant for a weed again.
I think that learning outside can help kids see what they are learning about nature. You can grow things in the school garden and then you can eat them. Many different fruits and vegetables are grown in the school garden. When they were done growing, students could eat
them. Our students got to grow broccoli and cauliflower. I learned how to make lemonade with the lemons from the school garden. It was fun to grow and eat things that I have never grown or eaten before. Now I know tomatoes are not veggies they are fruits. I also was taught how to plant seeds so animals can’t get them. When something is ripe, I know when I can pick it. I learned what a weed looks like so I don’t pull them and theneat them. I was taught how to hose things off right so there is no germs on it when I eat it. I got to put chili powder and lemon
onto lettuce to make it yummy. There are many things in the school garden that I can grow and then eat.
With your friends, you can be social in the school garden.One way is garden lunch. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you can go to the garden for your 45-minute lunchtime. Students can eat lunch in the garden with a friend of their choice. There are fun activities, such as planting, watering, and so much more. Another reason you should go to the garden with your friends is that you can plant food, take it home, and share it with your family. You can make lemonade and talk with your friends while doing it because, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” While I was in the garden, I made a bouquet and had lots of fun doing it with my friends. Once you cut up something like a mushroom or a carrot, you get to eat it. Everyone should do it because if you ever had a garden you would be an expert because you already had experience. In addition, you can make new friends at the garden lunch along with the staff. The best part about the garden is that you can hang out in the garden with your friends. The worst part about the garden is that you have to leave.
In conclusion, you and your friends can be social in the garden and you will always have fun!
I bet you can’t imagine your school without a school garden! Can’t you see people picking lemons out of tall trees, broccoli being enjoyed by students, and bright red radishes being washed? In a school garden, you can learn many things, there are foods to grow and then eat, and you can be social with friends and teachers. A beautiful school garden can simply brighten up your day, so convince your school to get a school garden today!
by Danica Smith, FoodCorps Garden Educator Manager
Much of public school is focused on academic achievement, and for various reasons emotions don’t often receive due attention. Emotions are not an inconvenience, but a way to help us reflect, slow down, learn, and heal. How does a school garden support emotional intelligence in children? School gardens are spaces of abundance, life, beauty, edible treats, creatures, tools, and learning in an untraditional setting where process is honored. In the garden one cannot rush a plant to grow. Everything is accepted how it is, how it looks, how it grows differently from the plant next to it. As a Garden Educator Manager (GEM), I adopt this principle into how the children grow. I want to see, hear, honor all their diverse dreams, fears, problems and emotions. Gardens give time for the diversity and education of real, intense human experiences that children are going through, just like the adults of their world and I get to be that caring, consistent adult that respects them. It is a privilege to elevate students in their journey of life.
Sometimes if a student is having an intense moment or an emotional outburst, I stop and say, “Wow, thank you for being so brave to share your feelings with me/us, that must have taken a lot of courage.” Acknowledging the realness of their emotions, and validating them is important. Then, depending on the group dynamic or activity, I can either find a way to have face to face time with that child, or I can turn it into a learning and connecting moment for the whole group, myself included. Listening to them, I can help identify or label emotions and actions we may wanna do when we feel a certain way, i.e. “I’m so mad I want to hit my friend or slam the garden gate!” All emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviors are. I aid in solution oriented, safe and effective ways that particular child can express their anger/sadness/boredom/etc. while in the school garden, with the hopes this self-regulation will permeate past the garden fence. Gardens add a space, atmosphere, and toolkit for developing and working with emotions, adding a much needed resource to our public schools. If gardens become more endemic in school communities, like the computer lab, math and the library, then social emotional intelligence education can flourish.
Quick tools for students to learn emotional intelligence within the garden:
Have you ever wondered how much water runs off your roof? When you look at the numbers, it's surprising how much water you can collect after a rainstorm. Just a half inch of rain falling on a 1,000-square-foot roof will yield 300 gallons of water (Gardener’s Supply).
Last week student’s asked, “Can we play the game again where we pretend we are plants and tag the raindrops as they fall down?” This game, with inspiration from Project Water Education for Teachers (Project WET), examines how vegetation affects the movement of water over land surfaces. For example, students acting as raindrops were caught by students acting as plants with their arms wide open to emulate leaves and 'sank' into the vegetation to simulate water percolating into the ground. Students playing plants then became rocks in the next round and discovered the water does not percolate into the bare ground as easily, since the students acting as rocks were bunched up, with their arms close to their bodies. One Cool Earth leads a 3 part lesson series called Slow It, Sink It, Spread it. This series allows students to dip their toes in learning about stormwater runoff, and provides hands on creative design experience for them to redesign runoff problem areas around their school campus using Low Impact Development (LID) concepts. LID can include rain gardens, permeable pavers, native plants, bioswales, mulching and much more.
In Atascadero, One Cool Earth has engineered 55 gallon rain barrels at both Santa Rosa Academic Academy and San Gabriel Elementary, two of our partner schools. Rain barrels reduce the amount of stormwater runoff by collecting roof runoff and storing the rainwater for future use. Rainwater collection from roofs via rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. The purpose of the rain barrel installation in school gardens is to use the non-potable water to fill watering cans for plants. The gardens host broccoli, lettuce, celery, perennials and many other plants.
What are the benefits of rain barrels?
You’ll have a water source in times of drought. If you collect rainwater, you’ll be able to water and nourish your garden with reserved rain water. Many people link several rain barrels together, called overflow barrels, so that when one fills up, it goes into the next one.
You’ll help to reduce stormwater runoff. When rain falls, stormwater runoff picks up many different pollutants that are found on paved surfaces such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, oil, grease, trash, pesticides and metals. Your water collecting prevents some of this damaging flow.
You’ll help control moisture levels around the foundations of your home. Collecting rainwater before it hits ground levels will help to prevent flooding, damp, and mold. There may be tax breaks for installing LID designs in your home or office space.
You can reduce your water bill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Garden and lawn watering accounts for 40 percent of residential water use during the summer. Thanks to a rain barrel, it can save water during the growing season. Some homeowners get pumps which create safe water for taking showers, or doing dishes.
All classrooms at Santa Rosa Academic Academy had 15-minute rain barrel tours to learn what it is, why it is there, and how to use it so that when they are participating in garden activities, they can safely utilize this aspect of their school garden. Rain barrels are one of many LID solutions, and One Cool Earth is so thankful to visually empower youth to save one of Earth’s most precious resources.
This month I had the chance to meet the man who inspired the movement that led to One Cool Earth’s founding, Lionel Johnson. It’s been about 4 months since I started as OCE’s Executive Director, and I had been anxious to find time to sit and talk with him.
His name comes up now and then when discussing the organization’s ‘roots’ and in meetings with schools to explain our program. “We were founded on the simple act of planting trees to save the planet,” we’ll sometimes say a bit dramatically. So, when Lionel showed up to the office, I was anxious to hear his story.
After talking about the weather, I said, “So Lionel, what got you into planting trees?” “Well,” he said, “let me share this with you first, make sure you read it.” He handed me a printed copy of a long article titled, ‘Can Dirt Save the Earth?’ “Read this,” he said, “maybe not now, but read it, and let me know what you think.”
We spent the next hour and a half talking about some of what was in the article. “It’s about carbon,” he said. “Plants and trees naturally absorb carbon. We’ve spent the last hundred years or more eliminating carbon-absorbing trees from the earth; planting trees puts the carbon back into the earth, which is nature’s natural carbon storage.” “So that got you into planting trees?” I asked. “Well mostly, I also got tired of my environmentalist friends spending more time protesting then acting. So, I just started planting.”
I sat and listened while Lionel discussed where this simple passion led him, specifically in San Luis Obispo County. He started working with schools, showing students how to find healthy acorns and plant them. They went on field trips to plant oak trees. “Pick me up next week and we’ll drive out to see some of the oaks we’ve planted over the years. You’ll be surprised to see how fast they’ve grown!” Lionel suggested during our meeting, to which I replied, “Definitely!” Like many, I imagined oak trees taking decades to grow. “That’s a myth! You’d be surprised how fast oaks will grow. If planted right, they’ll grow pretty fast. And their tap root will shoot down 3 feet within a year looking for moisture,” Lionel busted my myth.
Before Lionel left, we made plans to drive out to visit some of the oak trees that he and his students planted over the years. As he was walking out, he turned to look at me and said, “What we are doing with developing school gardens…it’s amazing. Keep it up.”
Later, when I had a chance to read the article he gave me, his message about ‘taking action’ resonated with what I’ve learned about One Cool Earth over the short time I’ve been here. We are an organization that takes action by creating school gardens and converting them into living classrooms; and by developing the capacity in schools to make science, math and nutrition a hands-on learning experience. Lionel’s passion was an inspiration to this, and we thank him.
Small kitchen? Trying to keep the house clean as you make each dish? Why not be grateful to have your children as a helpful hand? With some planning, preparing, and even creation, kids can feel rewarded and even be a time saver if they are included in Thanksgiving.
As many of us understand, a Thanksgiving meal comes together with preparing the meal, straightening up the house, and mentally getting focused with the preparation of it all while children run around in the mix.
In the school garden, kids have harvested, planted, composted and prepared food to taste with GEM's in the garden and we've discovered the pleasure and ownership a child feels taking care of the garden.
This year, add a little spice and get your children involved with Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll be able to continue your kids to develop ownership and make your day less stressful and overall more meaningful for you as a family. Here are 3 ways to involve your children this Thanksgiving:
Which kid-friendly jobs do you delegate during Thanksgiving?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.