Tag Archives: local experts

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.


Path ready for prime time … almost

5 Aug

With the bulldozers running from dawn until dust, the playground walking trail is almost finished. Bikers and walkers are welcome to come take it for a spin.

This morning brought the arrival of a truckload of boulders, which will be used to slow down erosion on the grounds. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every time it rains, the small rivers running through the playground carry off loads of healthy soil and mulch. That’s not good for our play areas and plant life, and it’s not good for the street drains, where all the stuff flows.

I’m guessing the students will like the boulders, as well, but not for their erosion-reduction properties.

Perfect for a stroll, right?

Or a bike ride. Just take it easy on the curves your first time around.


Thanks to landscape designer Katherine Gill, for all her work transforming the playground.

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.

Learning to grow, growing to learn

6 Jan

If you’re a newbie to coordinating a school garden, as I am, you’re still trying to learn. To be sure, books and websites can help. But you can also quickly become swallowed up by all the information and advice.

Log being inoculated with edible mushrooms

So I’ve taken the 919 approach, leaning heavily on the smart local people around me — such as Bountiful Backyards, who designed and led the installation of our school’s garden. (Pretty soon I’ll write an entire post about what those amazing folks can do.)

In the meantime, though, I’m sharing a short list of affordable upcoming workshops about gardening, led by some very smart local people. I’m trying to figure out how to sign up for all of them. I dare you to not learn something from this crew.

1. Michelle Wallace, a master gardener with the Durham County Cooperative Extension office, will help lead a Sustainable Landscapes Workshop on February 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

(Why I like Michelle: She spent nearly an hour walking and talking with me about which fruit trees and bushes would work on our school garden site — her advice: hardy kiwi, blueberries, strawberries and Asian persimmons are ideal for a school garden, because of when they ripen and their resistance to disease. She’s also currently helping Central Park School for Children with a pilot strawberry-planning project. If successful, she’ll have a model to share with other schools.)

The goal of the workshop is to teach gardeners “how to create productive garden beds while protecting Durham’s water quality at the same time. Participants will learn … how to manage soil for best results, smart watering techniques, how to install rain gardens, and how to create raised vegetable beds.”

Location: Durham County Cooperative Extension, 721 Foster Street. Cost: $25 per person, which includes lunch. Register by February 8 by contacting Pana Jones at (919) 560-0525 or via e-mail at prjones@co.durham.nc.us.

2. The good folks at Bountiful Backyards — who have taught me about everything from digging rain gardens to harvesting worm castings — is doing a Rain Garden Workshop/installation on January 16th. Call 619-9862 if you want to join. Since they’re doing the installation at Durham Academy, I might try to attend and get a peek at the overall garden space.

In February, BB will also offer a Edible Mushroom Log Innoculation with Duke Mycology doctoral student Greg Bonito. Last fall, they collected about three pounds of shiitakes off of the logs from previous workshops. Date to come.

3. Finally, Frank Hyman begins the First Breath of Spring Garden Academy at Stone Bros. & Byrd Garden Center. Six Saturdays, 1/16 through 2/20, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., $20 per class. The six-week class covers how to attract birds, native bees and butterflies to your garden, starting a vegetable garden, and cultivating a shade-tolerant wildflowers garden, among other things.

(Why I like Frank: In one afternoon, he helped me plant a fig tree at the school, told me some great stories about the wild orchid in our “forest garden,” and showed me how to identify the weeds in our wildflower garden. Deep, deep knowledge of horticulture.)