A Fall of Perseverance

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!

Sunflower Surprise Story

Weeds in the Garden

Well garden friends, it has been a long week. The picture above is from the school garden I work with and as you can see, we have not been in the garden since before spring break and the weeds and grass have gotten a bit out of control. Monday we started digging in to try and tame it back before students are scheduled to arrive in a few weeks.

Since March and over the next few months, we will be sharing out a lot of ideas for how to keep your garden program going and how to keep kids learning from a distance and learning from home. I want to take a moment this week however, to add a few words of encouragement in case what really made the most sense for you this spring or continues to make the most sense for you this fall is to just take a break right now with your youth garden program. Gardening has some amazing benefits including boosting mental, physical, social, and emotional health -- and it is a wonderful hands-on educational tool. We have seen a sharp increase in interest in gardening with kids since COVID-19 hit and it is so encouraging to see folks seeking out garden spaces during these stressful times. I want to send out major accolades to those of you who have kept your garden growing to provide food for your community at this time.

That being said, after reading through our recent audience survey, I know that there are many of you out there who are physically and mentally tired from trying to keep gardens going with little to no help. There are many programs out there that have completely lost all sources of funding and you are not even sure where to look to find new resources. And most disheartening for those of us who know how important and impactful youth garden programs are for our students, there are many discovering that the garden is the first on the chopping block when school budgets shrink.   So, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that things are not all roses right now and share a little story about sunflowers.

Through the years, I have read and written hundreds of program spotlights about school garden programs, but there is one in particular that has really stuck with me. Way back in 2005 when I was working with the California School Garden Network to put together a book called Gardens for Learning, educator Mary Landau shared a story about one of her elementary school classes that decided to grow sunflowers in a 60-foot long narrow strip of ground along the school building. Without outdoor water access, the class carried water out to the plants every day for 2 months just waiting for the flowers to bloom. Getting very close to opening, the class went out one day to find that someone had cut the heads off of every one of their flowers.

So you are probably thinking right now, really? This is one of your favorite program spotlights of all times?

Fortunately the story did not end there. The sad, angry, and disappointed students decided to leave the stalks up to see what would happen to the plants. A few days later, additional flower buds begin to develop and each stalk grew four new blooms. Granted they were smaller than the originals, but their bright, sunny faces smiled down at the class nonetheless.

Mary shared that her students not only had the opportunity witness how in nature living creatures fight to survive and reproduce, they also learned an important life lesson. They learned that life is not always fair and some times bad things happen that just do not make sense, but if you don’t give up, good things can come from the bad.

I am not sure that all sunflower varieties would exhibit this kind of response (so please do not try this unless you treat it like an experiment knowing it may not work the same way for you) nor am I sharing this story to make light of what is going on in the world today – I know it feels like things are crashing in on all sides for so many right now. I recognize that many school gardeners are still not able to get back into your space and those of you who are able to return are arriving to find much beloved plants that did not survive and an up hill battle with weeds that seems unconquerable. But as we started hacking away at the grass invading our own school garden this week, this story popped into my mind from long ago and it gave me hope, so I thought I would share it in this blog in case it might bring some to you too.  The reminder that if we just keep going and doing as much as we can even if it may not feel like enough, 'sunflowers' (or whatever we plant, including the seeds we are sowing to grow healthy and happy kids) are going to bloom again in our garden, brought back some of the joy and energy to our efforts.

If you would like to read the full program spotlight about the surprise sunflowers, you can find it in Chapter 8 of Gardens for Learning: Maintaining Your School Garden  on p. 73.

Celebrating Moths

Moths

Anyone else have night owl children right now? I think my kids are practicing for their college days. In fact my daughter, in light of the fact that schedules are changing, just asked if night school would be a choice in the fall. The reason I bring this up is to point out that yes, there is cool stuff to do out in the garden, even when the sun goes down! There are many flowers that bloom and are at their full glory at night such as moonflowers, evening primoses, and nicotiana. They usually give off a strong, sweet scent that helps them attract the attention of pollinators such as moths and bats.

Speaking of moths, this week is National Moth Week and a perfect time to go on a hunt for these nocturnal creatures. They can be distinguished from their butterfly relatives because they are usually out at night, they have feathery antenna and in their pupa stage they transform in cocoons whereas a butterfly transforms in a chrysalis. That’s right folks, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has mixed it up for us! Most moths spend time as a cocoon and most butterflies as a chrysalis (although there are certainly exceptions, you can read Eric Carle's explanation about why he wrote it that way). This was one of my son’s favorite books when he was young and I love it too, but I did swap out chrysalis for cocoon when I read it to him. I thought it sounded just fine that way.

Back on topic though, moths are pretty cool. From yellow spots that make them look like they have owl eyes, to mottled colored wings, moths have some of the most remarkable and fun camouflage adaptations. If your kids are up like mine tonight, go out and see what you might find. Moths are frequently attracted to porch lights, so you might want to start there. Also while you are out there, make sure to enjoy the evening chorus of critters who sing throughout the night during summer months.

Above is a picture of an Imperial moth, a common visitor to our school garden. They frequently spend the day resting on the brick of our school building and the kids get such a kick out of finding them. They are well camouflaged, but different enough from the red/brown brick to draw attention. Their larval form eats on pine and other trees, which means they do not cause any damage in the garden (unlike the long-tailed skipper caterpillars which keep eating all of our bean foliage). We also sometimes spy luna moths which are really cool too.

Another great kid-friendly night garden resource you may want to check out is Our Shadow Garden by Cherie Foster Colburn. A very touching story about a grandchild creating a special garden with his grandfather for his grandmother who has cancer and is unable to garden during the day, the book’s illustrations were drawn by children who were patients at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. It's another book I love!

Cooler temperatures, a non-electronic environment, and sensory engaging activities are just some of the benefits you can reap from a night-themed garden. Make sure to keep an eye out for garden friends you might want to avoid (in Texas we have to watch out for copperheads, skunks, and mosquitoes). It’s a whole different world out there when the lights go out and another fun way to teach kids to appreciate and respect the beauty and intricacies of relationships in nature.

Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project

hydroponics pilot

This past school year, KidsGardening had the exciting opportunity to work in collaboration with the National Farm to School Network and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation on the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project which resulted in the creation of the Exploring Hydroponics Guide.

Hydroponics in short is growing plants by supplying all necessary nutrients in the plant’s water supply rather than through soil. From an educational standpoint, it provides a lot of interesting opportunities to teach kids about plant needs and gives them the chance to investigate ways we can use engineering and technology to grow plants in nontraditional settings. They get the chance to explore ways to grow plants in challenging environments and think about how this type of growing technique might be used to meet the needs of our current and future food systems. From a student’s perspective, it is just plain fun too.

As part of this partnership, just like the 15 pilot sites, I had the chance use the guide and an AeroGarden Farm Plus system with the fourth grade students at our school garden and you may remember I shared a bit about our experiences in a blog in the fall. I kicked off each session by taking an anonymous vote on paper, asking students “Do plants need soil to grow?” and not surprisingly, a majority of students said yes. Many times to simplify teaching plant needs, kids learn soil is one of those needs rather than learning that soil provides the needs of water, nutrients and place to grow to the plant. It was awesome to watch their amazement as our plants quickly grew in the hydroponic unit (much faster than the lettuce growing outside) and really be able to demonstrate for them that you can in fact provide for the needs of plants without soil. We then tied that into lessons about what hydroponics mean for growing plants for increasing populations and in challenging environments like in urban centers, deserts, Antarctica and even on the moon.

I just want to mention here, that I always make sure to include in these lessons that soil is very important and share the wonder of how perfectly it is designed to naturally meet the needs of plants. I place the emphasis on using hydroponics in situations where we might need to look for alternate solutions (including environments with challenges such things as water scarcity, low land availability, and temperature extremes) and the benefits hydroponics can offer in those solutions. My absolute favorite finding from the feedback shared by the Gro More Good Hydroponic pilot programs we worked with was that they found working with the hydroponic systems in the classroom increased the interest in and enthusiasm for their outdoor gardens too. Because it was regularly accessible and because of the faster growth rate, the gardens proved to be a great hook to get kids excited about gardening. How cool is that? You can read more about the highlights of the pilot program from the National Farm to School Network.

The Exploring Hydroponics Guide offers 5 lessons (with 3 distinct learning activities in each) targeting 3rd through 5th grade. We include suggestions for using with younger and older students too. The focus is on hands-on exploration and real world application. It also includes an extensive appendix offering hydroponic basics for anyone new to this type of system. The pilot programs used a prefabricated hydroponic system, but in the guide we also share ideas on how to build your own systems too. I want to make sure to give a shout out to Joreen Hendry, Eve Pranis, and Victoria Beliveau who authored the original KidsGardening Exploring Classroom Hydroponics publication many years ago which laid the ground work on these easy (and inexpensive) DIY systems.

You can download the Exploring Hydroponics guide for free both on the KidsGardening website and the The National Farm to School Network website. We hope that you find it to be a useful resource to add to your youth garden library.

Searching for Inspiration

Inspiration

As we continue to be in a season of change, I am pretty sure I am not the only one in search of inspiration and support to renew my spirit not only for my work with youth gardens, but also for life in general in the time of Covid-19. This spring was exhausting and frankly, the upcoming school year is looking like it will be more of the same. Change is an inevitable part of life and it is good and necessary, but does anyone else feel like you are a GPS that is in a constant state of recalculating right now? So looking for a bit of recharging, I want to put in a plug today for the upcoming National Children and Youth Garden Symposium.

Launched in 1993 as a grassroots effort to bring youth garden advocates from across the country together to share our experiences and collectively help us gain momentum, the conference has been held at sites all over the country and always attracts a diverse audience including formal and informal educators, garden professionals, and a wide range of community volunteers. This is one conference where simple introductions are never enough because the programs represented are always uniquely designed to meet local needs and I always want to find out more. I have only had the chance to attend a handful of the events over the years, but I wish I could have gone to them all. I always leave with an amazing wealth of new ideas and knowledge that I can immediately put into practice. The information I have gained has helped shaped my work at KidsGardening, my volunteer time at our school garden, and even my activities gardening at home with my own kids.

Like most conferences these days, the 2020 NCYGS is moving to an online platform using a combination of live and pre-recorded events. I know it will not be the same as being in person and experiencing the hands-on activities and the live discussions, but I hope that many of you might take this opportunity to check it out in this highly accessible format. As always, the costs are being kept as low as possible and they are devising ways to creatively provide live interactions too. The conference will be held July 8 – 10th and registration is available now.

Check it out and get it on your calendar! The more of us that participate, the more impactful it will be. Find the time to recharge your batteries to keep growing!

Love Makes Me Grow

gardening programs for families

This week I want to share with you another inspiring story from one of our 2020 Gro More Good Grassroots Grant Winner. Their organization’s name, Love Makes Me Grow, should tip you off to the scope of their mission and the amazing work they are doing in their community and around the country. Below you will learn more about how they are responding to the needs of families during COVID-19. Their work is a great example of gardening programs for families.

Love Makes Me Grow, Kissimmee, Florida

Partnering with a local elementary school, Love Makes Me Grow is a nonprofit in central Florida focused on teaching families how to grow their own gardens to secure a sustainable food source and make healthy lifestyle choices. Participants in the program come from a variety of high needs circumstances including those who are challenged by food and housing insecurity. Families sign up to participate in a nine week program that includes a diverse offering of educational programs focused on nutrition and exercise, but also featuring topics such as careers in horticulture, affordable housing, financial literacy, and self advocacy. Each family is provided with the resources they need to begin home gardens (containers, soil, seeds, and plants) and they also contribute to the planting and maintenance of the school garden whose site they use for their weekend programs. During a normal year, they are able to offer four different sessions and reach 100 families annually.

As many community garden programs, this spring the educators at Love Makes Me Grow had to get creative about how to reach their audience. Fortunately, they were still able to provide the garden supplies to the families, but they had to find alternate ways to provide the educational support and in doing so they ended up expanding their audience far beyond their own community. The president of the organization, Nilisa Council, shares this about their spring efforts:

“We had to adjust with the times. Our website, Facebook and Instagram have been instrumental during these uncertain times. We have also collaborated with RadioMision 105.5 (transmitted in Spanish) on Facebook Live. They have provided a timeslot of 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm on Saturdays where we can educate and demonstrate our work. As a result, families throughout the U.S. have been in contact with us requesting seeds. Love Makes Me Grow has been able to assist over 800 families ranging from Florida to California. Along with the seeds, if requested, we do send a harvest guide, a planting calendar, and instructions on how to plant. We have also created several Power Points, which will be used during the Facebook Live show (depending on the week).

We have received incredibly positive feedback from our families. We have families that have planted a handful of seeds while they are at home with their children just to see what happens and others who have taken on bigger projects such as creating their own raised garden beds. Dads that have decided to build greenhouses, moms that have bucket gardens, and grandmas that have planted herb gardens. There is never a seed too small or too big. We are here to guide and educate.”

A key point of advice that the educators at Love Makes Me Grow pass along to new gardeners is for families to really think about how they plan to use their harvest. Instead of planting all their seeds at once, they recommend planting a few seeds at a time so that they are also able to harvest continuously and in the quantities needed by their families. They also promote the idea of saving seeds and other plant parts for their garden such as drying tomato seeds and planting potatoes that have started to root.

One last aspect of the Love Makes Me Grow program that I would like to emphasize is their focus on whole families. The program requires that adults and children participate together. In doing so, they are creating an opportunity for the family to spend valuable time together and also reaching multiple generations. The work they are doing will not only impact their community today, it will also help shape the future.

 

Eliada Homes Therapeutic Tea Garden

Eliada Homes

Throughout this tumultuous spring, those of us at KidsGardening have been encouraged and comforted by all of the remarkable stories of families, schools, and community organizations who are using gardens and garden activities to offer hope and joy to the children in their lives. Many of these stories have been shared with us by our 2020 Gro More Good Grassroots Grant winners. This year’s recipients were notified of their award on the first day of spring right in the midst of a rapidly changing world. We offered them the opportunity to decline or delay their award or to alter their plans to meet more immediate needs wanting to be as flexible as possible, but the overwhelming response we received was one of determination that the garden programs would continue. It was amazing to me how quickly they created new plans and adapted their programs to meet pressing needs arising from the pandemic. Over the next few blogs, I want to share with you some of these inspirational stories from our Grassroots Grant winners which I hope will bring you as much hope as they have brought to me.

Eliada Homes Therapeutic Tea Garden
Asheville, NC

Eliada Homes
Completed green house

Eliada Homes is a residential facility offering a wide variety of treatment programs for youth who have experienced trauma and abuse. From substance use issues to juvenile justice involvement, Eliada residents are there to focus on learning how to overcome their personal mental health challenges. Many have bounced through systems of care as children and are distrusting of adults and the systems they represent because of the way they've been failed in the past. Three years ago, a garden and farm program was started on the grounds of Eliada to provide a therapeutic activity that would help staff build trust with youth and offer experiences to help them regulate their emotions, manage their impulses, and help them develop the coping skills they need for the future.

Eliada’s gardening program currently centers around a geodesic grow dome and a growing tunnel. Hydroponics and aquaponics methods are used to produce large quantities of leafy greens, herbs, and fruits. Everything grown is used in the cafeteria on a daily basis. With their Grassroots Grant award, Eliada plans to expand beyond the enclosed indoor gardening spaces to create a no-till, regenerative educational garden. They plan to dedicate one section of the garden to a therapeutic tea garden.

Assistant Director of Development Nora Scheff, shares this about why planting a tea garden is so important: “Youth living at Eliada are in our high-level treatment program. Youth in this program have experienced trauma which results in internalizing such as self-harm or externalizing such as aggressive behaviors that make it unsafe for them to live at home. Their time at Eliada is for healing, and one of the things the kids love most is herbal tea. Many of the kids in the program have bounced around in the mental health system for years, and have been hospitalized. They have been prescribed a menu of medications, and they have often felt out of control of their treatment experiences. Self-soothing techniques like drinking herbal tea are popular because the kids have agency around their use.”

Due to the pandemic, the installation of the tea garden has been delayed, however as an essential and residential service, Eliada’s garden has continued to grow strong. Nora mentioned that with students unable to leave their facility, “Expanding on-campus opportunities has been really important so that we can continue to offer enriching activities that help with healing and build resiliency.”

She continues, “This is such an unprecedented time. For youth living at Eliada who have experienced so much trauma, it has been important to us to create as much normalcy as possible. Having a structured routine and keeping kids engaged has been vital. Having gardening opportunities offers so many sensory experiences from taste and touch, to smell and sight. Youth who have experienced trauma often struggle with emotional regulation. While at Eliada they learn what coping skills they can use to calm themselves and deescalate when feeling angry, anxious, depressed, or out of control. Visiting the garden can be a coping tool, same as drinking herbal tea. The garden offers so many opportunities for youth to identify personal strategies for achieving calm and focus. While in the garden, youth also get to help out with farm chores, work off some excess energy, learn a new skill, and take their mind off of everyday tasks. Gardening gives their brain a chance to focus in on something else that is alive and growing, too, and kids learn how to be gentle and handle fragile plants and animals. They get to help plant seeds, watch food grow, and harvest their dinner salad- getting a sense of pride and taking responsibility for feeding themselves.”

Gardens offer so many ways to help heal and I hope Eliada’s efforts are as encouraging to you as they are to me.

Mother’s Day

mothers day

As I was contemplating what to write today with Mother’s Day approaching, I decided to take a stroll down memory lane and look through some of our old garden photos. The picture above is one of my favorites and taken in front of our community garden plot at the time. It was so nice to see the smiles and joy shining through. Our adventure with community gardening came to an end once my kids started elementary school and I became involved with our school’s garden program, but I hope some day we might give it a try again.

Got to be honest, the smiles have been few and far between around here lately. There have been a lot of Mom fails in our household the last couple months. Lots of nagging to get schoolwork done. Should it really take 3.5 hours to finish up 5 second-grade level word problems? It did at our house today. Plus more time on electronics while I try to juggle work at home with kids being home than I care to admit. I have been reminded over and over again that being the Mom is the hardest job out there.

And please know that when I say "being the Mom," I fully recognize this role is not a matter of biology. It is being that person who is in charge of nurturing and protecting those little people in your life who do not come with instructions, but really should. It is a responsibility that is critical in our world, but rarely comes with recognition or thanks (and you can’t call in sick either).

This Mother’s Day, Gardeners Supply has generously stepped in to not only support KidsGardening and the work we are doing right now to encourage families to get into the garden to work off some of that stress by spending some solid positive time together (and maybe even add some fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet too), but also they are helping us help you thank those special mother figures in your life with a gift card. Right now, with a donation of $50 or more to KidsGardening to support our mission, you can select a special honoree to receive a $50 Gardener’s Supply gift card. So with your donation, you help us get more kids in the garden to learn how to nurture and care for our planet while you also honor that person who taught you those same life lessons.

Learn more about how you can give the Gift of Gardening this Mother’s Day and Father's Day. Thank you for your support!

Gardening Together – Sharing Teaching Resources

sharing

Over the last few weeks, we have shared some of our favorite, easy KG activities to do at home and some of the resources from partner organizations we are relying on for inspiration right now, but this week I am excited to share a brand new resource created by the School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network to help youth garden educators across the country share their best lessons, activity ideas and garden tips for students, teachers and families that have been crafted specifically to provide support during these ever-changing times.

The SGSO Network has launched a special COVID-19 resource page where you can discover a database of distance teaching resources, find entry into a very active online forum, and take advantage of opportunities to register for weekly virtual gatherings for live sharing of ideas. Topics of focus include:

  • Distance Teaching/Learning Resources
  • Garden Care and Management During COVID-19
  • Maintaining Fiscal Stability for Your SGSO
  • Running Your SGSO/Supporting Your Staff During COVID-19

A BIG shout out and thank you to our dear friend John Fisher at Life Lab for all of his hard work bringing this amazing resource together!

Although the main focus of the SGSO Network is to support school garden professionals as learning has shifted to homes this spring, amazing garden educators from around the country are quickly adapting their lessons and activities to meet the needs of home gardens and ‘new’ teachers (AKA family members who are so very appreciative of the hard work of our teachers and schools) and making them available for everyone.

The School Garden Distance Teaching Resource Round-Up database offers tons of awesome digital resources from garden tours/plant walks to pre-taped cooking lessons, activities that can be done with minimal, common household items, and fun lessons that won’t have your kids hiding from you. If you have a resource to share, you can submit it via a very simple Google form. The Forum has ideas that range from what to do with gardens that cannot be accessed at this time to policies put in place for gardens that are remaining operational. The Virtual Gatherings join these two resources and give us all the social connection that we need to make it through the physical distancing.

So if you are looking for some resources and inspiration for engaging in garden-based learning at home this spring--- make sure to check out this great new resource.

sharing resources
A preview of the offerings on the SGSO resources page.

Let it Go

Let it go

Yes friends, I do hear Elsa’s voice singing in my head quite a bit lately. Like many of you, I entered Spring Break with a long list of all the tasks and projects I wanted to accomplish this spring in our school garden. Before the break, we had planted seeds for our Tops and Bottoms garden (lettuce, kale, carrots, radishes and corn), grew our own tomatoes from seed for the pizza garden and were watching our hydroponic tomatoes beginning to show signs of turning red to the amazement of teachers and students alike. And then, in a very rapid sweep, each day of Spring Break brought news of a changing reality. By the end of the week, we were no longer returning to school in the near future.

My first thoughts were along the lines of: How can we get things weeded and cleared out now? What can I do to keep what is already planted going? How can I keep it all watered? Will school return this year? If we do go back, will the kids be sad if the garden is a disaster? What will happen if we don’t go back? The school district does not want people on campus, can I even get special permission to water the plants? Add that to keeping up with work and taking on the task of home schooling using all the content coming my way from our school district and I was feeling a bit frazzled and stressed after week one. Over the weekend, I had a chance to take a breath and I heard a wonderful message about how at this time, it is okay to let things go. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

For all of you who are dedicated to keeping your school gardens going during this challenging time, a big WOW! and thank you for your efforts. Your kids will be so very excited when they go back. I have heard wonderful stories of educators able to share the growing garden with their students through digital communications. For those of you who are maintaining food gardens to help make sure fresh fruits and vegetables are available in your community, an even bigger applause. The value of gardens to local food systems is higher and more evident than ever.

But I hope that you guys don’t mind that I want to share this message too, just in case some of you might be in my situation where the balls in the air are just too many: it is okay to let it go if you need to. I found homes for most of the tomatoes that were slated to be planted in the pizza garden and then potted up what I had left in 5 gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. If Mother Nature throws rain our way, some plants may make it, and some plants may not. The weeds will probably take over. There will probably be fire ants. But the bottom line is that when we get back, we can reclaim it. Perhaps there will even be some good lessons to learn along the way as we do.

Deciding what can be let go and what cannot is a constant process and that list will be different for everyone. I am trying to make it a priority to get outside in some way or another every day because I know how important that is for all of us. With my new class of two students, we are continuing to visit our pollinator garden on wheels to watch the monarch caterpillars chomp away (we have 1 chrysalis already) and we also make sure to swing by our honeysuckle vine to taste the flowers (my son’s absolutely favorite garden activity right now) and check in on our nesting cardinals there. It is not the grand garden program I had planned, but I will tuck those ideas away for a later date and keep dreaming while remembering to look for the peace that I can find today in whatever bit of nature I can find.