One Cool Earth is excited to welcome Dan Cano as our new Executive Director! Since officially taking over the Executive Director role on August 1st from interim director Greg Ellis, Dan has been visiting school sites, getting to know the staff and meeting with numerous community partners.
Dan adds, "I’m excited about the opportunity to work with such a talented and passionate staff. After only a few days on the job, I’ve watched our Garden Educators work on everything from curriculum development to irrigation and composting. They are truly well-rounded individuals. As a parent, I can only hope that my daughter has the opportunity to spend time with such great role-models and educators."
Prior to joining One Cool Earth, Dan was the Community Food Programs Manager at SLO Food Bank Coalition. He also served 5 years as Executive Director of The Link Family Resource Center, a nonprofit that fosters a safe, healthy, and thriving community by linking children, youth, and families with programs and services to address their unique needs.
While Dan continues to support children and youth, he is also now promoting school garden programs. He claims funding will be the most challenging part of his role. Dan expresses, "That's true for all organizations working to solve big problems. I think the challenge is that we’re breaking into nontraditional education environments and many teachers and administrators may not see the value in it. Instead of walls and clean desks, our classroom is alive and growing. Our school gardens are truly an outdoor laboratory; without the thousands of dollars needed for microscopes and chemical resistant counter tops. Thankfully in our county, we have some of the most open and progressive educators in our state, but there is still much work to be done.
The job of a One Cool Earth Executive Director is complex. The broad goal is to lead the advancement of school gardens within San Luis Obispo County’s public schools, aiming to support thriving school gardens at all 43 elementary schools in SLO County. But each school is unique and has individual needs, and it is through relationships that Dan determines the support, services, experiences, and inspiration our Earth Genius program needs to succeed. With relationships and strategic planning, the executive director influences the growth of children.
When asking Dan about his primary goal at the start of One Cool Earth's director positions, he conveys, "My primary goal is to continue to build relationships within our community. Like any small organization or business, leadership change can be disruptive and uncomfortable if relationships and organizational culture are not honored. One Cool Earth has been developing its presence for over a decade, and honoring its path is my first priority".
So far, building relationships are what has been happening within him, the staff, and community partners. Dan says his favorite part since working with OCE is working with Mr. Greg Ellis, our outgoing Director. He adds, "I met Greg in 2011 in a collaborative grant with One Cool Earth, SLO County Probation, and The LINK to support the garden at Liberty High School in Paso Robles. Since then I’ve watched One Cool Earth grow into a mature organization with an organically developed curriculum, incredibly gifted staff, and great partnerships throughout SLO County. I’m really happy that he is staying on as our Growth Officer to continue to expand our impact in the SLO County".
In Dan's free time, he enjoys hiking around the local mountains with friends (like most of us in SLO); however, recently he's been a part-time chauffeur for my 12-year-old daughter who’s very involved swimming with North County Aquatics.
Last, Dan shared his first memory in the garden. He announces, "My first experience was when my father planted a garden in our backyard in West Los Angeles. He was a true child of the 60’s and 70’s and believed that growing food, no matter how small a crop was a way of keeping you grounded and connected to the earth. My sister and I would help him plant the corn and vegetables and I remember the excitement of watching the first sprout rise from the soil".
One Cool Earth Uses Research To Focus Program Results
The EarthGenius program includes best-practices in nutrition education by involving students in every step of the food system, from growing and harvesting, to cooking, eating, and sharing and operating the program over the duration of the school year. In particular, our growing, cooking and tasting leverage three determinants that lead to the most effective nutritional behavior change: 1) decrease fear of trying new foods (neophobia); 2) increase perception that it is socially acceptable to eat fruits and vegetables; and 3) increase self-efficacy in abilities to eat fruits and vegetables. Gardening itself burns 400 calories per hour, as much as jogging!
The EarthGenius program bridges textbook learning with the real world, and garden-based lessons aligned to classroom standards serve as effective , engaging, and low-cost laboratories as they model many of the basic concepts in earth science, life sciences, and physical sciences. Multi-subject elementary teachers often lack strong background training in scientific subjects and science education pedagogy. By providing teachers with training, coaching, and resources, and by maintaining gardens, the EarthGenius program increases the capacity of schools to teach science effectively. Garden programs interlinked with standards and combined with teacher trainings have been shown to improve standardized testing scores by up to 15 percent.
EarthGenius gardens involve students in real-world projects with tangible impacts. The program also encourages Wise Water-use by teaching conservation habits and utilizing state-of-the-art irrigation technologies. Low-income residents are often hardest-hit by increasing utility prices, and water conservation provides direct financial savings. We promote Zero Waste at schools to lower waste hauling costs and comply with state mandates to reduce waste. Our garden programs are linked with school-wide recycling and composting programs. We process the compost in bins using worms to produce fertilizer for our gardens. By recycling, we reduce school waste hauling costs by up to $3000 per year per school, helping to justify schools in partially funding garden programs. We teach about Food Forests, incorporating ecology and tree planting with the garden programs, allowing students to plant and raise their own native trees in nurseries at each school.
Written by Danica Smith, Garden Educator Manager at Winifred Pifer Elementary
Miss Danica is the Garden Educator Manager (GEM) at Winifred Pifer Elementary School in Paso Robles. Twice a month she runs a program with K -3rd grade classes called 'Library on the Lawn.' This includes a tasty garden treat that correlates with a read-a-loud story. Last month's story was, "How to Have an Apple Pie and See the World," and was accompanied by an "apple pie" smoothie for the students. The story was about a little girl wanting to make an apple pie. She went to the market for the ingredients, but the market was closed. She had to travel the world in order to acquire the ingredients she needed for her pie, such as cinnamon from the kurundu tree in Sri Lanka, and sugar cane from the island of Jamaica.
After the story, Miss Danica started conversations with students about regions that specialize in growing certain types of food, including what grows well and in abundance in Paso, such as stone fruits, grapes, and olives. The conversations stemmed from these questions; Where does food come from before it is on the market? How far does our food travel and is this helpful to our environment? To our bodies? Can food get jet lagged? What if we did not trade food all over the country? What if we didn't have big grocery stores with food from all over the world? What would it feel like to eat only locally, seasonally grown items?
After some thoughtful conversation, students indulged in a smoothie taste test (recipe below). Chia seeds were the item that most students had not heard of or tasted before. The most important fact about chia seeds is the magical activation they must undergo before they are ingested. Chia should be soaked in water (or any liquid) in order for important nutrients to release and be more readily available to the body. Many teachers after this part of the lesson said they never knew that about chia seeds.
The work One Cool Earth does inside schools not only affects positive change in the students via the garden but in the faculty and greater school community. When teachers see Miss Danica on campus, they'll get excited and ask what the treat is, or when their turn for "apple pie" smoothie is. Miss Danica looks forward to sharing more delicious, healthful foods to all the students, staff, and parents she works with.
"Apple Pie" smoothie recipe:
1 frozen banana
2 tbsp chia seeds (let these soak in water for 3 - 5 minutes)
8-12 oz. of water
handful of kale or spinach
dashes of cinnamon, to taste
1 spoonful of coconut oil
**Add or take out whatever ingredients your heart desires!**
Written by Natalie Perez, Garden Educator Manager at Monterey Road Elementary
Monterey Road Elementary School is the first in San Luis Obispo County to earn a Green Ribbon Award! The Gateway to Green Schools Team, along with One Cool Earth, and the Atascadero Unified School District hosted a "Green School Showcase" as a case study, a celebration, and a time for hands-on education to happen.The event started showing off Monterey Road's waste audit video. This video reveals how this school is engaging their students in the school waste system and giving them the opportunity to take action on what they care about by composting, recycling and reducing waste.
Next, there was a tour to view the the school’s new, green infrastructure. Monterey Road added solar panels to the roofs of their classrooms. Also, the roof is a material that reflects heat instead of absorbs it. If the roof absorbed all of the heat, it would make for a microclimate hotter than its surrounding area. The school has added sunroofs to the classrooms allowing for natural lighting, in turn lowering the energy used for lights. The classrooms are so well insulated, heating and cooling are rarely necessary--instead they use the advantages of living in a temperate climate to buffer temperature.
On the playground, the school features a bike course where students practice the rules of the road on their bikes. This encourages students to bike or scooter to school safely. The bike course is integrated into their PE classes when the bikes, that are rotated between schools, arrive at Monterey Road.
Ed Surman, One Cool Earth's Garden Manager, provided a history of Monterey Road’s endeavor the previous year to make a vacant hillside full of weeds into a food-producing forest. Ed and Natalie Perez, One Cool Earth’s Garden Educator Manager at Monterey Road Elementary, talked about how amazing this opportunity is for students to work together and co-create this environmentally-sound landscape that will soon sustain itself and where all parts that make up the whole are working together and feeding off of each other. It also makes a metaphor of the school community: the students, teachers, and all the faculty are working together to keep it all running. One Cool Earth’s creation of the food forest andstandards-based lessons for students at Monterey Road are important factors as to why Monterey Road was awarded a Green Ribbon.
Lastly, the showcase introduced the garden full of veggie beds and worm bins. Student members of Monterey Road’s Green Team talked us through the daily ritual of composting at the school, a task organized, led, and executed all by the students themselves. Monterey Road’s composting systems represents immense progress for schools and for it to be done by students is noteworthy, for they really are the most important part of the system.
By Miranda Beal, One Cool Earth's AmeriCorps VIP Fellow
At a waste audit last fall, a young girl sorting potential marine debris came up to me and said, “We are taking care of planet Earth”. Nearly 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources. Marine debris is any man-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. It can be simple items such as a discarded soda can, cigarette butt, or plastic bag that ends up in the ocean potentially harming marine life. Marine debris can kill and injure marine wildlife through ingestion and entanglement, disrupt habitat, endanger human health, cause damage to shipping vessels, and hurt businesses and tourism by polluting our beaches and coastline. Plastic debris is especially threatening because of its ability to absorb and concentrate toxic pollutants.
Youth have displayed higher rates of littering behaviors. One Cool Earth's goal with marine debris education is influence youth and their peers to keep storm water clean in order to protect waterways. The ultimate solution to marine debris is prevention. The NOAA Marine Debris Program supports projects focused on marine debris prevention through education and outreach. As a recipient of NOAA's funding opportunity, OCE offers a zero-waste program which includes marine debris education and student-and-school-led waste management programs.
Together, the students, staff, and garden educator managers are working to launch waste-sorting stations, create on-site compost bins, and teach the school and community about zero-waste practices. Every weekday, the Green Team, built up of select student leaders, instruct their schoolmates which items go to the blue bin (recycling), the grey bin (trash), or yellow bin (compost). The Green Team then takes the compost bins filled with fruits and vegetables and chops them with a spade. After the compost is in smaller pieces, it is transferred into a plastic "macrobin" where worms feast.
Schools also participate in a waste audit where one school-day's worth of waste is sorted into categories. At waste audits, many students are surprised to find certain items and are interested in reusing items they found like markers, glue sticks, and are silly about keeping food items like doughnuts (of course they're just joking). It opened their eyes how a whole bag gets contaminated if it isn't placed in the right bin. For instance, a juice box can accidentally get place in a recycle bin which now makes the bin "ooey gooey".
Following the waste audit, the entire school participates in presentations about the waste audit findings and view (and smell) the school's waste piled before their eyes. During this time, students brainstorm actions they can take to decrease the amount of waste going to the landfill, such as making educational signs, bringing reusable lunch containers, and eating all the food on their plates. With the school-wide waste audit, One Cool Earth is able to show students our waste footprint and learn how small changes can make a big difference in waste!
By Teresa Lees, Garden Educator Manager at Cambria Grammar School
Yes, we have plenty of stems, leaves, and roots from our vegetables in the garden. And it is awesome that through the One Cool Earth, Earth Genius program students eat these stems and leaves and roots.
Students also receive plenty of STEM education in the garden too. That means they are learning SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICS (STEM). At Cambria Grammar School, the students regularly have STEM in the Library programs when they tinker, build and make structures with their hands, so it was a natural extension when I said, “Now we are doing STEM in the Garden."
SCIENCE – Students have been experiencing soil science through hands-on explorations of the three soil types – sand, silt, clay and have set up experiments to track the difference of how seeds emerge in the three soil types. There are always plant science lessons connected to children’s literature too such as “Tops & Bottoms” and “Two Old Potatoes” and me. We even tied in art lessons here too with drawings of plants that grow below ground (bottoms) and above ground (tops) and made Potato Prints in the garden. (So this is where the acronym STEAM comes from – add an “A” for “Art.”)
TECHNOLOGY – Students have been learning about meteorology with a toy weather station (By the way, sure would be nice if someone could donate the funds for a real weather station for the schools!) that has a rain gauge, thermometer, anemometer, and weather vane. Students were then shown a model of a weather vane made out a pencil, straw, straight pin, and paper for the directional arrow and tail and given the supplies so they could figure out how to make their own weather vane to take home.
ENGINEERING – Students are looking at water usage at home as well as on campus. On campus, we will look at an architectural drawing of the school grounds and map out where all the drains are located so that we are all more aware of where water flows from high ground to low ground.
MATHEMATICS – Students will be graphing the precipitation data from 2015 – 2017 to see the low numbers of average rainfall. Hopefully, they will take a strong interest in watching the weather enough to follow the precipitation numbers for 2018 and beyond. We also used math with the 1st and 2nd graders tocount up to 63 by counting by 7’s to introduce them to the concept of multiplication as each one of nine potatoes in the story “Two Old Potatoes and Me” produced at least 7 potatoes each. We planted nine potato “eyes” in the garden and then lined up nine students and had them each count out 7 small objects to put into a basket. Altogether there were now 63 potatoes!
These STEM in the garden lessons are all connected to the Next Generation Science Standards but more importantly, they are connected to multiple intelligences of students’ talents and passion and create a culture of lifelong learning and curiosity for the students.
By Natalie Perez, Monterey Road Garden Educator Manager
The students at Monterey Road Elementary are relentlessly surprising me with their curious minds and eager hearts. Help in the garden is not hard to come by. On any given day helpful hands will be around to collect hummingbird sage seeds or weeding in the food forest. The engagement of students was especially portrayed when a group of students decided to organize a pumpkin stand after school one October day.
I was meandering about the food forest noticing the majority of our pumpkins were ready to be harvested, and soon! Students had been eager to pick a pumpkin to take home but I reminded them that there were not enough pumpkins for each student so instead, each class would come pick a pumpkin to house in their classroom. A few students who were on lunch came to me in the food forest and pointed out to me that the pumpkins were ready to be harvested. I had explained to them earlier that a pumpkin would show its readiness by the brownness in its stem. They remembered this and told me that they knew these pumpkins were ready because “Look at their stems Miss Natalie, they are brown and dry!”. I told them they were right and that I would need help to harvest the abundance of pumpkins we had and that I was pondering over what we should do with them. Students were more than excited to help with the harvest and told me we should hold a pumpkin stand after school for families to donate for pumpkins. They had the idea of the proceeds going towards new seeds to plant in our food forest. How symbiotic!
We ended up having loads of help harvesting all of the pumpkins, students from all grades were able to lend a hand in harvesting a pumpkin. Other students got to work putting together a sign for our pumpkin stand and a container for donations to go in. They even discussed just how the pumpkins should be laid out to allow for optimal presentation. In the end, the pumpkin stand was a huge success. The experience from start to finish was born, planned, and executed by the students for the students. Monterey Road is filled with students that inspire me as their garden educator to make garden-based education an empowering and fun experience where we GROW together. Every Child Deserves a Place to Grow!
by Miranda Beal, Volunteer Manager and Garden Educator
It feels like autumn as I am setting up One Cool Earth’s booth at San Benito Elementary’s Fall Festival and Trunk or Treat. As I arrive to set-up, I drive my car through a gate where I notice other cars setting up for the event. Unintentionally, I set up my booth in the Trunk or Treat area. If you are unaware of Trunk or Treat, it is an event where adults decorate the back of their cars for Halloween, load up on candy, and come sit in a parking lot for kids to “trick or treat” fully dressed in Halloween costumes. I am picking tomatoes, celery, and sage from the garden to hand out to families while other adults are setting up, so I don’t realize I’m set-up in the wrong spot until I come down from the garden and cannot move my car because the gates are locked for the event to start.
One Cool Earth’s main activity for the Fall Festival was hosting a pumpkin hummus taste test. Twenty minutes prior to the event, I started placing pumpkin spice dip on crackers. As I was finishing set-up, two elementary girls dressed up in their costumes came up to my table. They had their Halloween candy bags out and seemed curious about what I was working on. To them, I didn't look like a traditional Trunk or Treat. I smiled at them and started my speech, “Hi, I help at your school garden and made pumpkin spice dip out of pumpkins that grew in the garden! Would you like to taste test it and then vote on it?!” One girl responded with a sort of funny smirk and said, “Ha. No… No one is going to eat that. Haha!” And then she walked on by.
Kids say the most wicked things when they try new foods--it’s definitely not always easy to get them to try in the first place. Thankfully, with taste tests, we use delicious recipes and create an atmosphere of excitement that encourages kids to take a taste of a new healthy food.
Here’s how it works:
Despite the scary feedback from my first participants, the pumpkin hummus was an overwhelming success. Based on results from both adults and kids (but mostly the kids), we had 7% ‘try it’ without enjoying it and 93% ‘like it’ or ‘love it’. Many taste testers described it as pumpkin pie filling and were surprised when I told them the main ingredient is chickpeas.The PTA asked for the recipe, so it is now shared with San Benito to make with their families.
Taste tests have the power to get kids to try to new healthy food. One Cool Earth continues to encourage students to try the garden produce that students planted, enjoying the experience of seed to table bringing excitement to REAL food.