Pennies for Plants School Garden Fundraiser

On our website we have compiled a list of ideas for raising funds for your youth garden program through garden-related fundraisers ranging from simple things like selling handmade crafts to more complex projects like starting your own farmers’ market. Wearing my garden educator hat, I love exploring all the possibilities of turning an essential activity like fundraising into a fun, hands-on, real-life learning experience.

But this week, I put on my busy PTO mom hat and we held my favorite fundraiser of the year – we call it 100 Coins for 100 Days. I am not sure how widespread this tradition is, but at our elementary school, the teachers and students celebrate the 100th day of school usually with special projects and by dressing up like they are 100 years old.  Our PTO decided to build on that event with a very simple fundraiser. On the 100th day of school we put buckets in each classroom and ask students to bring in 100 coins (in any combination of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters) and the class for each grade level who has the highest percentage of students participate (not based on actually money brought in by the class– the teachers just record how many students dropped money in the bucket because we want to make it as easy as possible) gets as small prize (a prize for all students in the class regardless of whether or not they participated).

Promotion of the event includes a ½ sheet flyer and electronic communications. The buckets were donated and are reused every year. The prizes are also either donated or leftover from other events  (this year for example they are 3-D bookmarks donated by a parent). Our very generous bank allows us to use their coin counting machine without a fee if we load it up ourselves (I learned to bring gloves – the coins are icky).  All together, there are no direct expenses and it takes about 4-5 hours of volunteer time from start to finish. It truly is the easiest fundraiser ever!

What kind of results do we get? This year we raised $1141.76.  This one event pays for our entire garden budget ($800) with some to spare. I realize this is not a huge amount of money necessarily, but for our Title I school that has a lot of challenges with parent engagement, this fundraiser is definitely a win and the funds raised to effort expended ratio is excellent. From my perspective, connecting the coin drive to an existing tradition and also making it a one-day, annual event are important factors for getting everyone excited about it. I am not sure it would be as successful if we tried to do it on a more regular basis.

I know this is a bit of a different ‘green’ suggestion than I normally share, but I can tell you that as we kick off our garden season this Friday by planting tomato seeds under grow lights, we will definitely be thankful for our successful 100 Days fundraiser that has ensured we will have plenty of funds for both this spring and next fall’s garden.

Favorite Gardening Podcasts

cucumber vine on trellis

I just started gardening two years ago, so I’m still very green (haha) and eager to learn. One of the ways I’ve tried to absorb a bunch of gardening knowledge quickly, especially during the long winter season, is to listen to podcasts. After sampling quite a few, I’ve landed on these favorites. I listen on iTunes, but you can also find these on Stitcher, or most other podcasts apps. Enjoy!

The Joe Gardener Show – Hosted by Joe Lamp’l 

This podcast is devoted to all things gardening. National gardening television host, Joe Lamp’l, guides you through each episode with practical tips and information to help you become a better, smarter gardener, no matter where you are on your journey. This show has a strong emphasis on organic gardening and growing food, but covers a diverse range of topics from one of the country’s most informed and leading gardening personalities today.

The Living Homegrown Podcast – Hosted by Theresa Loe 

On the Living Homegrown Podcast, TV canning expert and national PBS TV producer, Theresa Loe, shares tips and tricks for “living farm fresh without the farm.” Through canning and preserving, artisan food crafting, edible gardening, and small-space homesteading (including backyard chickens), she shares how you can enjoy the flavors of the season and live a more sustainable lifestyle no matter how small of a space you call home. Alternating between solo episodes and interviews with the rock stars of the DIY food movement, each episode helps you live closer to your food.

Gardenerd Tip of the Week – Hosted by 

The Gardenerd Tip of the Week is your one-stop shop for organic gardening tips and tidbits. Seasonal, organic, and fun advice for your urban farm, homestead, and garden. They cover sustainable living, vegetable gardening, and more.

All Things Plants – Hosted by National Gardening Association 

In All Things Plants, our friends Dave and Trish Whitinger from the National Gardening Association discuss everything interesting and new in the gardening world. Each episode features regular segments, as well as occasional top 10 lists, interviews, and more.

Garage Gardeners – Steven and Emma Biggs 

This garden radio show talks to gardeners who are creative zone-pushers and season extenders. It’s hosted by our friends, father/daughter duo Steven and Emma Biggs, who use their garage to push their own gardening boundaries. Steve stores his dormant fig, lemon, and brugmansia plants in the garage over the winter, while Emma gets an early start with tomatoes on the garage roof. This show is about creatively gardening beyond your zone. 

As a thirteen-year-old who has experienced the life-changing benefits of gardening firsthand, Emma is passionate about getting other kids excited about gardening. She shares her advice in a new book, Gardening with Emma (Storey Books), which is set to be released next month. Check out our interview with Emma here; and don’t forget to check out their episode from October 2nd, when they interviewed KidsGardening Senior Education Specialist, Sarah Pounders, about gardening with children!

Cooking with Students

Cooking with students. Brightly colored bowls of pesto, plus a blender, cheese grater, cutting boards, knife, and crackers.

As many of you know, I spend half my week with the Burlington School District working with students on an assortment of food-based projects. And during the long Vermont winter, much of my time is dedicated to cooking classes and taste tests.

Each month I pick a new recipe inspired by Vermont Harvest of the Month to tackle with students during weekly hour-long cooking classes. For January, the featured Harvest of the Month vegetable is beets, so we’re making beet hummus, a simple recipe that has proven to be a real crowd pleaser.

Christine explains to the class that she hates beets.

Now, I have to be completely honest, I do not enjoy beets. And I’ve let every single class I’ve worked with know this. Some students have looked at me aghast once I’ve revealed this information (“Ms. Christine doesn’t like a vegetable?? I thought she liked all vegetables!”), while others have repeated back to me our adages about food preferences (“Everyone has different taste buds and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with liking or disliking specific foods”).

While I’ve gotten a kick out of the first response, it’s been particularly rewarding hearing students reassure me that it’s completely fine to not like beets. We spend a lot of time in classes talking about how we all have different taste buds and that it’s alright to have different opinions about food as long as we express our likes and dislikes in a respectful manner—i.e. “don’t yuck my yum” and the converse, don’t make someone feel bad for not liking something.

These concepts are at the heart of the cooking and tasting activities I lead. My goal is always to create a safe and welcoming space where students can share their honest opinions and won’t feel judged for their food preferences. There’s no pressure to say you absolutely loved something on the first try and there’s no shame in firmly declaring that this new flavor was not for you. As I often remind students, there’s no right answer to the question “did you like x?”

In fact, rather than simply asking students “did you like it?”, I encourage them to identify the ingredients and flavors that stood out the most and think about how they might change a recipe to better fit their tastes buds. Our classes are just as much a time to practice assorted cooking skills as they are a time to practice understanding our food preferences—learning the flavors, textures, and smells we like and don’t like, and figuring out how we can creatively customize recipes based on these inclinations.

At the end of the day I want to minimize the uneasiness and anxiety surrounding trying foods for the first time. Ideally, students will feel increasingly comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones and expanding their tasting horizons, becoming adventurous, confident cooks and eaters who feel empowered to explore and experiment with foods both familiar and new.

Beet Hummus

Combine the following ingredients in a food processor or blender:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small cooked beet (microwaved, boiled, roasted, your choice!)

P.S. I said I don’t like beets, but I do love this beet hummus recipe—that earthly flavor I’m not so comfortable with is lost amidst a powerful combination of garlic, lemon and olive oil. Many non-beet-loving students who at first assured me they’d hate the hummus, have come to this same conclusion.


Amaryllis Adventures with Kids

kid planting an amaryllis bulb

We are deep into winter here in Vermont, and it’s no surprise that amaryllis bulbs are bringing me great joy in this time of hibernation. I planted them with my kids early in December and our whole family has really been enjoying them! Nary a day goes by that someone doesn’t comment on the bulbs, it’s been a fun, beautiful way to enjoy living plants in this season of ice and snow.

amaryllis with kids
Huge bloom! This (now-faded) double flower was bigger than my toddler's head.

Confession: I only have one houseplant at home. Our house faces north, and we really don’t get great light. So I was a little unsure how amaryllis would fare, but honestly they are pretty determined plants. I gave one to my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, and it bloomed in their windowless classroom (yes I know that’s so sad).

I picked up two amaryllis at my local garden center from the mystery bin. They had probably 20 different types of bulbs at the start of December, each with photos of the blooms. I was immediately drawn to the mystery variety discount bulbs – maybe they rolled out of the bins, and folks didn’t know what kind they were. Since I’ve never seen an ugly amaryllis, I thought it sounded like such a fun way to shop! Kind of like the mystery DumDum lollipops they used to give out at the bank.

Real life: Despite rotating and staking, this flower leaned over for most of its life. Still loved it.

Amaryllis is really so easy that your kids can do it all themselves! Potting it is simple, and so is watering and rotating the pot to ensure even growth. Of the two we planted in December, one has completed a bloom and is already growing a second flower stalk. The other is a bit poky, and has about a ½ inch of a leaf starting to poke out.

It’s not too late to pot one up and have it bloom before spring! Search your local garden center, or scour the interwebs for bulbs. (Gardener’s Supply Company still has a few in stock, for example.) If you’re new to growing amaryllis like me, check out Growing Amaryllis with Kids – I know I’ll be referring to it all year long to keep my current bulbs healthy and blooming year after year.