Friday, December 16, 2005

The Season of Giving

As we put the garden to bed for our brief Mediterranean winter, I appreciate this time to reflect and hibernate a little, and to catch up with friends of Urban Sprouts. All the warm energy and enthusiasm you all have been sending me helps to renew my inspiration for the hard work ahead.

Techno-Sprouts. I’m trying something new, inspired by Britt Bravo’s blog Have Fun • Do Good and her work helping nonprofits utilize technology. Visit Urban Sprouts e-News in blog form, and add your own comments! (Bear with me, I’m new at this!)

Garden Update. The gardens look so lush and green now as the rains begin! Broccoli plants are forming huge flowering heads while fava beans are climbing higher, reaching the knees and then the waists of students. The feasting has begun! We're making delicious fresh salads with a variety of greens: lettuces of all shapes and colors, baby spinach and chard, mustardy mizuna and tatsoi, spicy arugula, and tender leaves from fava shoots. But the youngsters’ favorite leafy green of all . . . Lemony sour oxalis weeds!! The pest of all pests! Well, besides the gophers who are still competing with us for all the best broccoli. If you live near Alamo Square or the Excelsior and would like to harvest collards, kale or other cooking greens over the holidays, there is PLENTY so let me know!

Classroom Notes. As I reflect on the year’s successes and challenges, I wanted to share some of my field notes from this fall. We’ve had hard days and inspiring days—I hope this pattern means we are improving over time, and that we can keep it up!
October 5, 2005
This time I stayed back in the classroom with the students who weren’t doing well. It took us several tries to get in a line and get outside. They were SO frustrating. It was last period and they were just bouncing off the walls, not listening to me at all. I got them to dig an easy bed and do some watering. The walk back to class was not so good. I think it was just my group. The others seemed to be OK. There is a small group of students who don’t listen or cooperate. Sometimes they won’t work at all. For now they can only do certain jobs—will those run out, or get boring? We can never run out of ground for just digging holes, right?

November 8, 2005
Ms. DeSnoo’s Special Day students are just amazing. The progress they have made is incredible. She has them in their seats, doing their work, cooperating, following the rules. There are definitely still outbursts but very limited compared to last year. They are excellent in the garden. They wander a bit and need reminders to stay focused, but they do a great job. They’re cooperative and positive in the garden and they get a lot of work done. Last week we found one ripe strawberry and they all passed it around and smelled it and couldn’t believe how strong and strawberry-like the smell was. Today they asked for more!

November 22, 2005
We had our best day yet at Ida B. We had a new volunteer there, too, making a huge difference. It was a day of ideal weather. The students dug an entire new path into a new area where there is no garden. I never thought I’d be able to get them to do the digging, even over months! But they did it all in one day. Students who usually participate did a LOT of work, and students who usually just complain really engaged and participated. It was great. The space is transformed.

Support and More Support!
Thank you, thank you, gracias and obrigada for all the volunteer time and contributions pouring in to Urban Sprouts this fall! Every classroom volunteer and donation encourages me when times are tough in our schools and communities. Knowing you are all behind Urban Sprouts makes a huge difference!!

Thank you to our dedicated volunteers for giving more than 75 hours of classroom time:
Marianne Bojelian-Papas
Christina Chan
Alicia Connor
Zia Hrdy
Eddy Jara
Lisa Nguyen
Thank you to all our generous and caring donors who have given over $2,500 to date:
Claudia Anderson
Marisa Bosworth
Mike & Phoebe Bressack
Margot Duxler
Brook & CJ Higley
Steve Janko
Marianne Keenan
Alana Lachance
Anna Maria Luera
Jennifer Marshall
Patty & Michael Phleger
Augusta Prince
Abby Rosenheck
Mabel Rosenheck
Robert Rosenheck & Charlotte Hitchcock
Vede Rosenheck
Jessica & Sam Droste Yagan
Renee & Claude Zellweger
And an extra SPECIAL thanks to Bill & Christine of the Potrero Nuevo Fund who have pledged a grant of $7,500 to Urban Sprouts for the new year!

Remember, it’s not too late to make a special gift for the holidays! Give in honor of a loved one and you can make your own dedication stone to place in an Urban Sprouts garden. E-mail me today with your pledge of $35, $75 or $125!

These words of wisdom just came in from Odin Zackman, a friend of Urban Sprouts who builds community and sustainability through his consulting business, DIG IN. He reflected that gratitude “can help us build a healthier culture and create stronger relationships”:
When thinking about gratitude, I like to think of the common root of humble and human, meaning “to be close to the earth.” Like humus, that precious component of soil that gives it life, how can our humility and humanity—through the practice of giving thanks, create an experience and a world that is more grounded and alive?
The crazy holiday “season of giving” does give me the chance to express my deep gratitude and appreciation for the community of support that surrounds Urban Sprouts. Thank you!

Have a peaceful, cozy and very Happy Holidays!

Whether you’re gorging on Christmas, enjoying the traditional Jewish Chinese take-out, celebrating Kwanzaa (a harvest festival!), the solstice, the New Year, or nothing in particular, don’t forget to serve yourself some veggies!

Take care,


Monday, November 28, 2005

Safety in School Gardens

For a short week, this has been a difficult one for me and many teachers and students of Urban Sprouts schools Luther Burbank and June Jordan. It was a big reminder of how important resources like school gardens can be for youth.

Tuesday afternoon there was a murder in the neighborhood that Burbank and Jordan belong to. At school we were told that the shooters abandoned their car in McLaren Park, the park that touches our garden. All afternoon the students remained in lockdown inside the school. I went outside to the garden, and helicopters hovered just overhead, searching, beating the air. I never before felt unsafe in the garden. The panic, not knowing what could happen next, was physical. And this is the second shooting near school just since September.

It tears me apart what faces the young students. Where can they feel safe? If school isn’t safe, then where?? They do find emotional safety, a sense of control and authentic connection, in the school garden: In therapeutic caring for other living things; in sharing the experience of growing, of life, with caring peers and adults; in personal growth, learning to care for oneself and to eat right, to nourish yourself. For young people so bombarded with tough stuff—how can they process the unending assault?—the garden remains a crucial, spiritual and peaceful place for youth development.

I want to let you know about the difference between youth development and other kinds of programs for children. Youth development means enabling youth to feel safe and supported, to build real relationships, to have real leadership and decision-making power, and to learn real skills that will help them succeed in life. Beyond school testing, prevention messages, or recreation, youth development is creating a place where youth can grow and develop, personally, educationally and professionally. Not every young person has access to these significant supports.

It breaks my heart at a time like this that supportive youth programs like Urban Sprouts are so undervalued and misunderstood. While we struggle to educate funders, politicians and school district players about the impact of school gardens, time is slipping away!

I think of the many breakthrough moments . . . When a young person feeling frustrated and upset is calmed by watering the lettuces; When a student’s father, in the US less than 4 months from the Philippines, coaches his daughter and other youth to transform our wild desert of weeds into nourishing, hand-crafted garden beds; When a student runs into class, ecstatic, inhaling a fresh, fragrant strawberry, candy tossed aside . . . I know this is what hope feels like! (Prince Charles knows what I’m talking about!!)

The media reduces urban violence to statistics; Tuesday's was just "number 88." But every incident touches many lives. We CAN’T wait for disasters like New Orleans to wake us up! If you haven’t already, please learn how you can support real youth development programs in your community. And spread the word!!

Urban Sprouts, I hope, is a great example. Support us anyway you can—spend time in the classroom, talk to me about how your personal or professional skills can give us a boost, or make a donation to Urban Sprouts. For a small, community-based force like us, your help will make a HUGE difference.

You can also find out about other youth development programs in your community. Organizations like the Youth Leadership Institute and CNYD set the standards for the field.

Thank you for reading this! And for doing what you can to spread the word about school gardens.

In other news, our gardens are growing faster every day, with all the sun and mild weather. Next time I’ll tell you all about how the students are harvesting and eating tasty fresh food they grew themselves!

Take care! Enjoy the holiday harvest!


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

e-News: October '05

Hello Friends of Urban Sprouts!

Sorry for the delay with this month’s e-news—I’ve already been asked, where’s the latest update?! You’ll be happy to know that there is a LOT going on in the school gardens, keeping me busy!

Garden Update. Over 300 students at Burbank, Jordan and Wells have been busy cultivating garden beds and planting seeds to get our gardens full of crops for the winter. Students have planted many favorite Brassica family members: broccoli, collards, bok choi, tatsoi, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, mizuna, and cauliflower. Also lettuces, carrots, beets, and chard. This week, we’ll be focusing on planting nitrogen fixers, fava beans and sweet peas. After planting these great winter crops, we’ll be able to harvest and eat salads and stir-frys all winter. Students are noticing that our soil has really improved since last year: it’s richer and more full of worms! Trivia Game: Win poppy or arugula seeds for your garden if you can name the family that beets and chard belong to! Double points if you can get carrots and lettuce, too! Winners announced next issue.

Volunteers Wanted! Thanks to the expertise of Britt Bravo, our Urban Sprouts volunteer program is up and running, bringing more people into the garden with us. We’re especially seeking help during the day in science classes, every Tuesday and some Thursdays and Fridays. If you have time during the day or know someone else who’d be interested, visit our Urban Sprouts website and click on the button, “Volunteer!” If you’d like to help at other times, contact me.

This Saturday: Garden Party Work Day. On Saturday, between 11am and 3pm, stop by the garden at Luther Burbank M.S. and help us to work, harvest, cook, eat and play in the school garden. You can experience a typical day in the garden and meet students, teachers, and other garden supporters. Hope to see you there! Burbank is located at 325 La Grande, between Persia and Brazil Streets.

A Great Way You can Help Right Now: We want to let even more people know about the important work of building school garden programs in under-served schools and helping all youth gain access to healthy, fresh organic food. I will soon begin sending out informative newsletters and personalized letters to get all of you even more involved with our work. To do this, we must build our mailing list. Please send me your mailing address, and addresses for any of your friends or contacts who would like to learn more about Urban Sprouts. You can help us spread the word about the importance of urban gardens for youth!

Please note that we have completed the transition to Urban Sprouts in cyberspace: check out our website at and e-mail me at

Take care, everyone! Eat your veggies and smile in the rain!


Saturday, September 10, 2005

e-News: September '05

Hello Friends of Urban Sprouts!

Welcome everyone, new and returning friends, to our first fall e-News! I hope you all had a great summer, eating tasty fruits and veggies and enjoying the outdoors. Our Urban Sprouts school gardens are looking a bit wild and woolly, but school has started so they’ll soon be whipped into shape. That’s right! You heard me: we now have TWO school gardens in San Francisco that are part of the Urban Sprouts family, at our original Burbank site in the Excelsior and at Ida B. Wells High School on Alamo Square in the Western Addition.

Garden Update. We started classes last week at Luther Burbank Middle School and at Ida B. Wells. Both gardens are overgrown but looking alive! Burbank students will soon be able to harvest potatoes—in three different colors—and beans—a special Italian heirloom variety. Meanwhile, Ida B. students kept busy saving seed from many cabbages, bok choi, and poppies maturing in the garden. Next week the first Burbank after school Garden Club will begin meeting twice a week, and students from June Jordan School for Equity, the small high school sharing Burbank’s campus, will start working in the garden as well. This year we hope to see over 200 students getting excited about growing and eating their own food!

We’re Growing! Urban Sprouts received wonderful news this summer, as we were awarded a substantial grant from the California Endowment. This support allowed us to start off the year working in all three schools and to fund my position as full-time paid staff. We’ve really made it! Thanks to everyone who has helped to get Urban Sprouts this far.

Focus on Youth Health. With support from the California Endowment, General Mills and a partnership with UC Berkeley, we are tightening up our approach to improving youth nutrition and physical fitness through school gardens. These groups are working hard to combat childhood obesity and diabetes, which have increased dramatically in recent years. The Endowment reports that 30% of California youth are overweight, while last year’s school fitness test showed that over 50% of Burbank youth are overweight. On top of that, of Burbank youth, 90% failed to reach physical fitness standards overall. That’s why our work is so important! We are very lucky to have Eddy Jara, a nutritionist and graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, with us this year. Eddy will work closely with our program at Burbank, involving students and their families in helping youth to eat better and exercise more. This is part of a pilot study to examine how parent involvement in school gardens can improve youth health in the community.

Renewal & Inspiration. Our garden team from Ida B. Wells enjoyed an amazing 5-day school garden educator training at Occidental Arts & Ecology Center this August. I attended with School Principal Claudia Anderson and science teachers Dean Muller and James Pierce. We had a blast, filling up our hearts and minds with school garden preparation for the year to come, while soaking up the beauty of the farm and gardens at the Center, swimming in the pond, and eating delicious food (not to mention sneaking off to town for the famous Magna Burger). I highly recommend this training for all school gardeners. Check out our pics.

That’s the news for now! We have a Garden Work Party at Burbank in the works for October 15. If you have advice on building a garden shed or would like to help out, please contact me.

If you’re interested in learning more about my work in Ecuador this summer, visit this website of pictures. You, too, can volunteer with Shunku Llacta!

And don’t forget to visit Urban Sprouts on the web, still at

Take care, everyone!