Tag Archives: harvest

5 ways edible gardens make kids smarter and healthier

1 Feb

I just created a presentation about the evolution of our school garden at George Watts Montessori. (I can’t wait to tell you why I was doing that, but that will have to wait for another post.)

To show what we’ve accomplished, I delved into the 5 biggest ways the garden has contributed to the students’ health and academics:

1. Kids are tasting more vegetables and fruits — and learning how to cook them. Tasting what’s growing in the garden is so essential, but it’s also a challenge to incorporate into the school day.

At schools like Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., they have kitchen and garden staff who work together in figuring out what’s ready to harvest and cook with children — and then do it during set-aside blocks of time. If you’re not lucky enough to have that arrangement, you have to fit in tastings somehow.

At our school, the tastings have happened as a school-wide “celebration” — like Harvest Feast or Green Smoothie Day — and also as an individual classroom activity. This year, for example, classrooms gathered lettuce to make salads for a mid-afternoon snack and harvested broccoli for a recipe a teacher brought in. Other classrooms nibble from the plants as they pass through the garden on their way to recess.

What can you make with spinach and strawberries (both grown in our garden)? Green smoothies!

This spring, we’ll be trying something new. More about that in a future post…

2. Kids move more. Outside in the garden, kids can stretch, soak up some sunshine vitamins, and have a sensorial experience, thanks to all the smells and textures in the garden.

But the biggest boon to students’ health? The .25-mile walking path that we installed as part of the garden expansion.

Many classes run the track before starting recess. It’s one way for teachers — and not just the P.E. coach — to help kids reach the daily recommended levels of physical activity, 60 minutes. A growing body of research shows the connection between physical activity and academic performance (not to mention the health benefits of exercise).

So anytime a teacher encourages a run around the track, she’s helping kids get smarter.

A class does a lap before recess begins.

3. It’s a learning lab. I’ve told you before about the garden-based curriculum we’re using at George Watts Montessori. But teachers don’t always need customized lessons to encourage learning outside. Journaling, measuring, making real-world observations, conducting experiments, gathering specimens — it’s all possible in a garden.

Students can witness what happens when they don’t water young seeds enough, or how slowly their compost heap decomposes. It’s like this Chinese proverb puts it: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

4. It brings food equity to our community. We have enough space in our garden now that we produce more than students can taste during the school day. So we’ve been able to think about how to share food.

Some weeks (with the help of the school’s counselor) we send home fresh vegetables to school families in need. Over the summer, everything we harvested was given away to families at a weekly Garden Giveaway Day at the school. At last spring’s Great Tomato Giveaway, every family who wanted one got a free potted tomato plant, along with a list of ways to cook and eat a tomato.

And recently, over winter break, 20 or so students and their families came to the garden to harvest spinach and carrots. We took loads of it to our downtown soup kitchen, Urban Ministries, so the chef could turn it into a meal.

5. It builds community. This means a lot of different things to me. It can mean a small group of parents coming together to work on the garden beds, or the entire school community coming together to celebrate Rootfest. Or it can point to the many connections our school has made via the garden.

So far, we’ve forged partnerships with urban gardening groups like Bountiful Backyards and SEEDS. We’ve worked closely with the nutritionists from DINE for LIFE who serve public schools. We’ve helped and been helped by Duke students who want to make a difference in Durham. We’ve collaborated with other teachers and parents throughout the public school system. We’ve received grants and in-kind donations from organizations like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, NC Beautiful, Whole Foods, Burt’s Bees, Cabot Farms and our own school alumni group Friends of Watts. (And our PTA continues to provide the critical financial and volunteer support that sustains this program.)

With all those people and organizations helping to lift up our students and lift up our school, we’ve accomplished a bazillion times more than we would have alone.


Picking tomatoes in October & other amazing feats

15 Oct

Even as I impatiently await the return of truly cold weather — so I can once again wear my favorite black boots — I marvel at what this extended warm weather has done for the school garden.

Every day, students are able to pick ripe tomatoes from the vine and eat them on the spot. I mean, would you just look at this abundance?

Tomatoes in October

Kids that start the year feeling lukewarm (to put it kindly) about tomatoes become more open-minded about this delicious treat they can pick right from the vine.

Another amazing feat of Mother Nature: The basil keeps growing and growing and growing. In my daughter’s Lower El classroom, students recently harvested some basil, took it back to the room and made pesto to mix with noodles as their afternoon snack.

Basil, as far as the eye can see

You, too, can enjoy pesto made with basil from the Edible Garden! I’ll be making pesto using the fresh basil and summer-harvested garlic grown by students in our Edible Garden — and selling it by the jar.

If you’d like to have your own jar of delectable Edible Garden Pesto, simply post a comment here!

I’ll sell them for as long as supplies last. All funds go toward the purchase of mulch to protect the school garden through winter. I’d ask you to give what you think is fair for this mini-fundraiser, perhaps $5-$10. Thanks for your ongoing support!

Fresh basil from the garden becomes ...


From dull to delicious: the making of a garden

26 Aug

Before I post images of the school grounds as they are now — with the new walking trail, boulders and gardening space — here’s a look at the first few months of the Edible Garden project, beginning in January 2009.

It all started with a patch of grass surrounded by a chain-link fence, a vision and a lot of awesome volunteers!

Kid-to-kid: GW students gain a garden mentor for summer

29 Jun

Talk to anyone about youth gardens in Durham, and eventually the name “SEEDS” will be uttered. It’s simply one of the best programs going, when it comes to youth-oriented urban gardening.

So I’m thrilled that the George Watts PTA is collaborating with SEEDS on the school’s summer “Garden Giveaway Day” project, in which we harvest the George Watts garden and send produce home with families.

Today we welcomed Vianey Martinez of SEEDS to the George Watts garden.

Vianay is one of six go-get-’em teens hand-picked by SEEDS leadership to work year-round in their gardens. And now she’s coming to the George Watts garden twice a week to harvest with students and run our farmers’ market-style “Garden Giveaway” veggie stand.

Ranked third in her class, Vianey is a rising junior at Southern High School. She’s involved in her school’s garden club and Future Business Leaders of America, is bilingual and completely fluent in all things planty. Today, as we harvested, she shared English and Spanish gardening vocabulary words with the students enrolled in GROW.

We were floored by the number of ripe vegetables in the garden this week — the most squash yet (including the giant one pictured below), a mass of cucumbers, basil and tomatoes, which we tasted right on the spot.

Picked today: One giant squash, dubbed "Monster Squash."

We have so many cucumbers growing, they form "patches."

Vianey’s goal is to one day combine her love of math (economics) with her love of agriculture. Her future looks bright. Vianey, thanks for sharing a little bit of your knowledge and passion with our students!

Three more garden views: Bumblebees pollinate...

Bell peppers begin to emerge...

... and the hibiscus is in full bloom.

Dig it, eat it: Wednesday is ‘Garden Giveaway Day’

17 Jun

“These cucumbers are prickly!”

“I’ve never seen so much garlic in one place.”

“My mom grows tomatoes like these at home.”

Ms. Brogden and students harvest onions, which we'll give out next week.

Students Daniel, Luis, Jonathan and Christina were full of observations as we harvested cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, basil and garlic in the George Watts Montessori garden yesterday.

As they plucked Sun Gold tomatoes and banana peppers from the vine, they were doing more than gathering goods for our first Garden Giveaway Day (more on that in a minute). They were gathering ideas for a writing exercise they would do back in the classroom.

Ms. Brogden later told me:

“When we got back upstairs, the kids were sooo excited to write about what they had seen and touched. We wrote stories, and they had so many descriptive words and experiences. I loved it … especially in contrast to my second group that didn’t go out in the garden and how much they struggled with the assignment of writing a garden story.”

It makes sense: Just think about how much easier it is to talk about something if you’ve experienced it firsthand. That’s one reason a school garden can be such a powerful tool.

When parents came to pick up their children, who are among the 40 participating in the summer GROW program, our Garden Giveaway was in full swing. We sent home over a dozen cucumbers, dozens of bags of Sun Gold tomatoes and basil, a handful of peppers, and I lost count of the garlic plants, but they formed such a heap people were audibly gasping at the sight of them.

(The market’s aim is to help support families with healthful foods. Since we have a limited supply of produce, we’re only distributing to families and teachers participating in the GROW program. We’ll run the market every Wednesday through July.)

The recipe of the week is one I got at the Durham Farmers Market and that my family LOVES. Admittedly, it’s a little naughty with its heavy cream. But you can substitute half-and-half.

Best part about it? The easy-to-cook dish uses three things that are in season and that we picked fresh yesterday from the garden — garlic, basil and Sun Gold tomatoes. During the Garden Giveaway, 40 GW families could pick up a recipe, along with fresh ingredients … for FREE!

Scroll to the bottom for the recipe…

Garlic fresh out of the ground

Students picking the (surprisingly) prickly cucumbers

Showing off some of the goodies we sent home this week.

Ready to help customers

Ms. McGill snags a garlic.

Shiloh’s Creamy Sun Gold Pasta

I’ve never used the shrimp when I’ve made this recipe, so you should know that it’s absolutely scrumptious without it. If you don’t have Sun Gold tomatoes — which are small, orange and sweet — try using sweet cherry tomatoes.

3 cups Sun Gold tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup fresh basil, packed
2 tbsp butter
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2/3 cup heavy cream
one hunk of Romano or Parmesan
Pasta of choice
Optional: peeled shrimp

Heat your pan and saute the garlic in butter, being careful not to burn it. Add salt, pepper and halved tomatoes and wilt them down a few minutes. Add cream and cook gently, allowing the sauce to thicken. When it’s to your liking, add peeled shrimp directly to the simmering cream sauce. They cook pretty darn fast, so wait until the end. Then chop your basil and throw it in. This is perfectly delicious without the shrimp, but incredibly decadent with them. Plate your pasta and smother with sauce. Serve with grated cheese on the side, so it doesn’t get wasted on the sides of the pan.

Radish with your chips?

9 Jun

Our friends down the road at EK Powe hosted a Radish Day last week, which turned out really well by all accounts.

For the entire school day, the fearless Jen Minnelli, chair of the PTA’s Slow Food committee, stationed herself at a “Taste Table” with tortilla chips, radish salsa and vegetable dip. And as kids and parents passed by, they stopped to enjoy the healthy snack. Hopefully, as they nibbled, students remembered the radishes, carrots, lettuce and more they’ve been growing in their beautiful school garden.

This makes me dream about a day when kids can harvest and make daily snacks straight from their own gardens. (Get the radish salsa recipe here.)

Thanks goes to Whole Foods, who partnered with EK Powe for the event! And to Jen for her all her work.

Jen and her son at Powe's garden - photo courtesy of The Durham News

Green smoothies and 320 adventurous eaters

8 Jun

Today we held our final food-in-the-garden event of the school year at George Watts, and what a finale it was. On the menu: grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and basil, and green smoothies. More on that in minute.

First, I must thank Becca Wright, our school nutritionist, and the team of volunteers who worked in the garden all day, helping kids make the connection between what’s growing in our school garden and the food we were tasting. The volunteers walked the kids to the tomato and basil garden beds (and the now out-of-season strawberry bed), encouraging them to pluck and eat when the fruit is ripe. We picked a few of the Sun Gold tomatoes and popped them right into our mouths. Absolutely wonderful!

We used our garden’s fresh basil for the sandwiches, as well as sharp cheddar cheese donated by Cabot Creamery, a family-owned cooperative in Vermont — thanks, Cabot Creamery!

Now, back to the menu. The green smoothies were (unsurprisingly) the hit of the day. The kids cut up the fruit and spinach, measured ingredients and combined them in the blender. Result? Greenish-brownish smoothie.

Inevitably, one kid in each group was brave enough to be the first taster. And after one kid said, “Mmmmm!” almost everyone else fell in line. Even kindergartners gobbled it up. Parents, you would’ve been proud. You’ll find the recipe at the end of the post.

Our school nutritionist Becca Wright

A green mustache

Our sandwich chef volunteers

Kids picking garlic from the garden

How to Make a Green Smoothie

1/2 banana
12 strawberries
2 cups spinach
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon honey
ice cubes

Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Add ice as desired.