Building Classroom Community through Cuisine

Building community

We're excited to welcome Carrie Strohl, the founder and leader at The School Garden Doctor to the KidsGardening blog today! We (virtually) met Carrie at the National Children and Youth Garden Conference this summer, and asked if she'd share a bit about her work with our audience.

As students, teachers, and parents prepare for another season of distance learning, food education may be just the antidote to social isolation and disengagement. Seed catalogs, nurseries, and professional organizations are reporting an increased interest in gardening at home. Economic realities and restrictions for restaurants also may have pushed more people to cook at home. 

Educators can take advantage of this opportunity to build community through cuisine. Teachers do not need to be accomplished cooks or expert gardeners to engage in food education. They simply need to be interested in using food as a way to explore students’ backgrounds and connect learning in real and meaningful ways. 

Many organizations are bridging the gap between virtual and experiential education during school closures, so there are already many lessons to choose from! For example,The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA, released a large repository of tried and true cooking and gardening activities. These resources were developed last spring to keep kids cooking and gardening at home. Likewise, the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, CA, worked with multiple community partners to distribute veggie cooking kits to students challenged by food insecurity. 

The School Garden Doctor (based in Northern California) is promoting the program Common Core Cooking designed to empower teachers to find time in the school day to teach food literacy all year long. It uses a classroom-tested model — known as “Eat-Read-Talk-Write” — which aligns instruction to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts/Literacy and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

Here’s a sample activity that can be done at home before a literacy lesson focused on reading comprehension and narrative writing. 

Theme: Trying New Things

Lesson: Triple Tomato Tasting 

Text: I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato! 

  • Gather three different types of tomatoes. Select varieties of different colors, shapes, and sizes. 
  • Thoroughly wash and sanitize hands, tools, tomatoes, and preparation surfaces. 
  • Cut each tomato in half. Place one half of each tomato on a separate plate. Then cut the other half into bite-sized pieces.
  • Create interest by involving children in the preparation process or by asking probing questions, such as: “Do you think these tomatoes will taste the same?” 
  • Invite students to taste a piece of each tomato, one at a time. Never force or pressure students to taste. Let them choose, and reassure them that it’s okay if they don’t like it. (Remind them that no “Mr. Yuck” faces are allowed!)
  • After each variety, ask, “How did it taste?” Younger students may need you to provide vocabulary like “sweet” or “tangy.” Alternatively, ask for a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” rating. 
  • After trying each variety, take a vote. Ask each taster to select their favorite-tasting tomato. Make a simple representation of tasters’ “likes.” Invite them to take another taste of their favorite tomato. 
  • Read the book, I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child. Discuss how amazing it is that Lola and Charlie eat their veggies! 

Even in a global pandemic, people need to eat, so putting food at the center of instruction can connect home and school in meaningful ways during distance learning!

Want to know more? Check out Carrie's YouTube playlist and be sure to follow her on Instagram!

About the Author

As the founder and leader of The School Garden Doctor, Carrie Strohl believes that all students deserve access to cooking and gardening in school. If you would like more ideas for tasting lessons or cooking activities for fall semester,  visit

Look, nature!

easy nature ideas with kids

Today is the first day of school! All the kids and grownups in my house are pretty excited that the kids will get to go to a school two days a week. Of course, 7-2 = 5, so we've still got some good quality time to spend together. Here are few fun and easy nature ideas for kids that we've loved recently that might also work for your family or class.

  • We have been following along with Lessons to Grow By! This is a monthly set of themed activities, and September is all about pollinators. Last week we made our own flowers! (These are pictured above.) Everyone, including me, got really into it. (We left them outside overnight on accident and then the raccoons or squirrels really got into them too.) But you should sign up too, it's been really fun.
  • nature ideas for kids
    "Today we saw turtles"

    Observing nature at the community garden, in our yard, or on a walk in the woods has been a huge hit. Of course just taking mental notes is fun, but we've started bringing notebooks and pens along with us and it's so fun to see what they want to write about. One of my kids writes what they see and the other will draw. (If they do this at the garden it gives me a little bit of extra time!) The title of this blog comes from something my 5-year old said watching a bumblebee in the sedum at our house: "Look, nature! Let me get my notebook."

  • Learning the names of our local wildflowers has been a goal of mine for a long time, and the kids have gotten into it too. I bought a guide specific to our area and the kids love it. We tend to take photos of cool flowers while we're out and then take turns flipping through the guide when we get home. And then the next time we see something while we're out, I might give a little quiz. If you're not into flowers, you could do trees, mushrooms, scat/tracks, or even birds. When kids (and adults!) can give name to something they are more likely to care about it.

A Fall of Perseverance


As the school year officially kicks off for families across the country, it is clear that flexibility, creativity and perseverance are skills we are all going to get a lot of practice with again this fall. It is encouraging to see the interest in outdoor and garden-based learning continuing to rise in popularity and also to see nonprofit and other support organizations continuing to jump in with ideas and resources to help turn this interest into opportunities for students. What a joy to know that the foundation to continue to grow together through gardening is strong!

In the School Garden Support Organization Network’s virtual gathering last week, we had the chance to ask participants about the state of their local schools. About half of the participants were going back to school using all distance teaching, about a quarter were using a hybrid model, and the final quarter was divided between in person or still unknown. A majority of folks also shared that garden educational programs were mostly being continued through digital tools, however there was a lot of interest in finding new ways to connect in person too. From garden to cooking kits and a wide range of ideas for gardening safely during these times, the wheels are turning at max speed to get creative and continue to make an impact through the garden. You can view an archive of the gathering, sign up for future webinar and check out other resources submitted on the SGSO COVID-19 page.

We are also continuing to hear amazing stories from the field as schools, community gardens and nonprofit organizations are finding new ways to connect with their communities and provide needed support. Solving problems through grassroots efforts is always inspiring to me. Who better to figure out the best way to meet local needs than a community-based organization?

Let me share a recent an interview with Hallie Sykes, the Education Manager at Oxbow Farm and Conservation Center in Carnation, Washington as she shared with me some of the details about how their organization was working to tailor programs for their community at this time:

Can you just provide a brief overview of your regular programming?

In a typical year, Oxbow supports hands-on food and nature based learning through farm-based environmental education (EE) for Pre K through 12th grade audiences and beyond. We serve around 7,000 students annually through field trips, in-class lessons, and summer day camps. Through school partnerships we support outdoor education and access in the schoolyards and bring learning to local elementary schools with hands-on lessons covering topics from seeds, pollination, worms, and water, ensuring lessons are supportive of Next Generation Science Standards, in-class instruction, and social and emotional learning.

Tell us about some of the ways you have adapted your programs to meet the needs of your community at this time?

Our programming has pivoted significantly to be responsive during the COVID-19 school closures, especially with regards to food distribution and helping campers and students explore nature and gardening at home. Firstly, our education farm, typically serving kiddos on field trips during “harvesting and snacking tours” and for summer programs and camper-led farm stands, has focused on food distribution and hunger relief. At this time we are providing fresh seasonal veggies weekly to four groups of underserved audiences from youth-focused programming and our 1.5 acre kids farm and education team has contributed to 1200 produce boxes for families throughout the spring and summer of 2020.

In partnership with a teacher and our key partner school Frank Wagner elementary, we started a mini garden program where families could sign up to receive a series of veggie seedlings which were distributed alongside the veggies during weekly school lunch distribution. Essentially we’re bringing garden learning into student homes, with each seedling including bilingual care instructions to ensure success for every garden. Several families have grown enough produce to donate some back to the local food bank in a true showing of reciprocity!

Do you have any feedback from your audience that you can share about the impact of your adapted programming?

We have received a ton of feedback and excitement from families about the veggie distribution and mini garden program at Frank Wagner. We have grown from a school with a garden to a community of gardeners! People are sharing their tips and strategies for success, including recipes and stories. Several families have mentioned a newly invigorated sense of purpose when it comes to growing food and a desire to learn from their wise elders (grandparents or family members) that have gardened for years. It’s an intergenerational knowledge sharing effort! Here are a couple of quotes:

“I am so excited for all the veggies! I haven’t eaten a fresh salad since last week’s bag, which disappeared quick!” – Parent picking up Oxbow produce at Frank Wagner Elementary

“My Daughter and I went to Frank Wagner Elementary to pick up a new learning packet today. We were greeted by an Oxbow Farmer with a smile. He gave us the most Beautiful bag of Greens I have ever seen and Sprouts for our garden!  Thank You so much for the Veggies and the Kindness.”

The enthusiasm is still present, even 19 weeks in!

Do you have any practical tips for other garden-related community organizations based on your experiences?

One of the most beautiful and important outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is building relationships to families in addition to teachers and students. AND knowledge sharing, support and networking between school garden and farm based education entities. One of our proudest efforts is to truly be present and dependable, so we’re there EVERY Wednesday and they know they can count on us. I anticipate this effort will open doors for us to continue to work with the school, the district, the community, and maybe even the cafeteria as we set our sights on bringing farm fresh veggies into the lunchroom -- a notoriously challenging task! Also- never underestimate the true passion, talent, commitment and innovation from a teacher champion. When our inspiring teacher, Elizabeth Lovelace has an idea we follow her lead and support her in every way we can!