Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tears and Cheers

It’s certainly “back-to-school time” in Wisconsin. I can almost feel a buzz, an emotional hum in the community, as parents, teachers, and kids express a mixed-bag of relief, fear, excitement, and dread.

Childcare providers must be feeling shifts as well, as youngsters they’ve seen full-time become students, and perhaps enrollment shift as parents become employed and unemployed in this crazy economy.

As the saying goes, the only thing that doesn’t change is that things are always changing. Who would have thought just a few decades ago that today we’d be asking teachers to help tackle problems like cyber-bullying, the resurgence of whooping cough, and childhood obesity?

Of course, learning really has always been about more than the right answer. Great teachers have always known there are subtle lessons within every lesson. They’ve always known that while the focus may be on a specific skill, there are always non-academic factors in this small person’s development that can help or hinder their ability to learn.

Teachers and childcare providers who have tried youth gardens can tell you just how “holistic” the whole gardening experience has been for the kids. Children learn that gardening can be a lot of work, and that sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you expect. They find out that plants will grow and ripen on their own schedule - whether you are patient or impatient - so you might as well be patient. They grow in confidence and compassion when they are able to share the vegetables from their garden with family and friends.

So in addition to gardening having the flexibility to fit into a lot of different curriculums, there’s also a wide variety of lessons to be extracted from a single gardening experience.

Honestly, sometimes when I really think about just how much we put into the hands of our teachers, our child care providers, and all of the adults who are helping our kids grow, my eyes well up. And the tears are a mixed-bag of relief, fear, excitement … and a hearty cheer of gratitude.

Learn how you can incorporate gardening into your classroom or childcare for FREE at upcoming Got Dirt? workshops http://www.co.brown.wi.us/departments/page_a91dc44f6e83/?department=68d3c3d55278&subdepartment=b2b33ee26bfc

Monday, August 8, 2011

How can a pebble make a bigger splash than a boulder?

The stacks of spotless, crisp notebooks and bright back-to-school accessories are already greeting us at the entrance of stores. I don’t know what it is about school supplies that still draws me - my days of HAVING to have a 5-subject binder with a dreamy picture of Rick Springfield on the cover are long over!

I hope you’re not yet getting caught up in the back-to-school flurry, but rather still enjoying some quality time doing perhaps little more than skipping rocks, or maybe meditating on the slowly spreading ripple-effect of a pebble tossed in a pond. Only so many more days before that pond will freeze over!

I’ve been thinking about the “ripple effect” a lot as I’ve been talking to some of the teachers who are enthusiastic advocates for the Got Dirt? Program. One story in particular had me a little misty as I was swept up in her story of all the unexpected influences her simple garden project had. Here’s the short version – there were actually many more ripples!

An elementary teacher came back from a free workshop with the design plans for a Microfarm – basically a small, self-contained garden on wheels. She showed the plans to the father of a student who had been helping with some handy-work around the school, and his eyes lit up as he assured her “I can make that”. This parent happened to be between jobs, and while the project truly was a very easy one for someone of his skill - the opportunity to hear his kid tell classmates “my Dad built this” was just as empowering and rewarding as being the most popular parent on career day. Ripple: engaged and happy parent, one who happened to really need a boost.

The kids planted seeds for a variety of greens, which sprouted quickly and were ready to harvest in just a few weeks. Each student planted a recycled milk carton for themselves plus another for a friend. When it came time to make the harvest into a salad, the students invited their friends to join the feast, many of them other teachers and school support faculty. Who isn’t flattered by a lunch invitation? Ripple: The feeling of family across the whole school was enforced, and even school staff who might not feel like they have the same influence as teachers were honored to be picked as “friends”.

Seeing the impact this project had on the kids during the salad luncheon, several other teachers could see how easily the Microfarm could inject great hands-on enthusiasm into a multitude of lessons. The fact that it is portable and works quickly made it easy to arrange a schedule for multiple classrooms to use in turn. Ripple: that initial effort saved time and money in the future, and for more classrooms.

It keeps going! The health department recently contacted the original teacher to discuss whether the Got Dirt? Garden experience could be the foundation for the research piece of a grant they are pursuing to expand some school nutrition programs. It turned out to be just what they are looking for. Ripple: Wow, you can see how that ripple can grow and keep going!
So, I love to think of the Microfarm garden project as the little pebble that makes big ripples. When I start talking about classroom gardens, many seem to be intimidated by the big splash – the big boulder of a project like an outdoor raised bed complete with corn and compost bins and weeding schedules and … whew! Bigger projects are heavier lifting for sure, and they do make a splash that’s impossible to ignore … but don’t underestimate the power of the pebble.

Want to learn how? Give me a call at 920.391.4655 or email peters_lk@co.brown.wi.us. Or take a peek at the free instructions on building a Microfarm at http://www.co.brown.wi.us/i_brown/d/uw_extension/microfarm_manual.pdf.

Training sessions to help you decide what type of garden is right for you, and advice on how to get started are also FREE at training sessions across Wisconsin – find us on Facebook or Twitter for announcements as workshops are scheduled.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Great Grant, Great Taste, Great Nutrition!

One of the easiest but perhaps most diverse type of gardens for any age gardener is an herb garden. As anyone who has ever planted mint in an outdoor bed can tell you ... there are actually some plants that will grow like crazy, even if you don't want them to! Many herbs are vigorous growers even in small pots, even on a window sill during winter, or under a small grow-light.

So it seems usually something that easy would fall short in some other category, like taste or nutritional value. Not this time!

What would summer tomatoes be without fresh basil? Did you know lurking in all that yumminess is beta-carotene, potassium, iron, and magnesium, just to name a few health benefits of basil?

Personally, I wasn't crazy about fresh green beans ... until someone introduced me to summer savory. The fact that savory is a source of the B-complex group vitamins is a total bonus!

Herbs aren't just a delicious staple in seasoning our favorite foods or making not-so-favorite foods bearable. Many herbs contain unique anti-oxidants, essential oils, vitamins, phyto-sterols, and much more.

So starting an herb garden in your classroom, childcare center, or after-school program has some pretty powerful appeal: almost guaranteed success, a wide-variety of flavors and ways to use in a meal, nutrition ... and for 4 lucky classrooms, the Donald Samull Classroom will provide $200 in "seed money"!

Check out this grant opportunity for 3rd - 6th grade classes: http://herbsociety.org/resources/samull-grant.html

And here's a great listing of school garden grant sources, graciously compiled by the San Diego Master Gardener Association: http://www.mastergardenerssandiego.org/schools/grants.php

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Got Dirt? vs. Got a can opener?

Can you imagine … if you had only ever tasted commercially canned asparagus, would garlic risotto with roasted asparagus or zucchini and ricotta fritters with roasted garlic aioli sound at all tempting? I’m sure there are some home-canners out there who can do this vegetable justice. However, thinking about the vast differences in texture, color and flavor between fresh vs. canned for this one vegetable makes me realize how lucky I am to have been exposed to “garden fresh” since I was a little kid.

My name is Lisa Kay Peters, and I recently joined the staff at the UW Extension in Green Bay as the Marketing Coordinator for Got Dirt? Looking back, I’m so grateful that my grandmother and mom got me involved in flower and vegetable gardening. And Mom, you’ll be especially glad to hear this … I’m glad my parents made me try different veggies at dinner!

This program is so exciting! Although school gardens are "old school", having been in existence for over a century, we can’t forget that all the technology kids have access to today doesn’t trump or replace the powers of Mother Nature. Watching a seemingly lifeless seed sprout and grow into food is pretty awe-inspiring the first time for everyone. My friend, Molly, started her first small home garden last year. To watch a thirty-something get downright giddy over seeing seeds sprout and turn into carrots she plucked and ate – well, my reaction was to giggle and ask “Good grief, didn’t you grow a bean in a cup in school?”

Turns out, she hadn’t.

I’m very much looking forward to working with you to get the Got Dirt? training and support out to Wisconsin classrooms again this year. Let’s give kids as many healthy choices as we can, and put the power of creation in their hands. Right now we’re looking for Master Gardeners and others with horticultural experience to commit to hosting teacher training sessions in your area. Please contact me at peters_lk@co.brown.wi.us or 920.391.4655 if you can help!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grants Galore!

The Healthy Classrooms Foundation

The Healthy Classrooms Foundation is excited to announce that our 3rd annual Grant application cycle is now open. Here is your opportunity to bring a healthy initiative to a classroom and help improve the lives of children in communities throughout Wisconsin.Please visit www.hc-foundation.com and click on "Apply for Grant" to submit your application electronically. Applications are accepted now until May 31st, 2011.Questions? Please visit our Grant Application Q&A section on the HCF Forum: http://hc-foundation.forumotion.com/

Welch's Harvest Grant

Now in our second year partnership with Scholastic and the National Gardening Association, Welch's will support school garden programs through Welch's Harvest Grants. We are pleased to invite you to submit an application for your opportunity to win a valuable garden for your school.
Entries will be judged by experts at the National Gardening Association and two schools in every state will be selected to receive a Welch's Harvest Grant. Winning schools will receive a customized indoor or outdoor garden package filled with a variety of tools, seeds, educational materials, and more. Five (5) $1,000 gardens and ninety-five (95) $500 gardens will be awarded. Deadline for submission is February 11, 2011, so we encourage you to start working on your grant application today.

Visit the Welch's grant website at http://bit.ly/7pZDZj

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Seed Saving

Most schools in Wisconsin follow a traditional September to June calendar. Many of the food crops planted in gardens ripen and become ready to eat during the summer months, when students are not in school. Seeds, however, mature in late August through the fall, allowing for a curriculum to be in place when the school year resumes.

With this change in perspective, the garden is not "dead" in the fall, but full of seeds and learning opportunities that can be extended throughout the winter as well.

Harvesting seeds is done in the fall, but processing seeds, making seed packages, and packaging seeds can be done in the cold winter months when access to the garden is often limited.

So do some research on saving seeds and seed swapping with other schools! A simple google search will bring up a plethora of results! Happy saving!!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Activity: Seed Tape

Here's a simple and fun way to plant seeds in your youth garden!

1) Paper towels cut into strips 3in x 12in
2)White glue
3) Ruler
4) Pencil
5) Small seeds (ex. lettuce, carrot)

1. With a ruler and a pencil draw small dots every one inch in the center of the paper towel strip.

2. Place a drop of glue in the center of the dots.

3. Place one seed on each drop of glue

4. Allow glue to dry completely before moving or storing strips.

5. Plant seed tapes 1/2 inch deep in garden. And wait for them to grow!