Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Big vs. Small Farms: who wins?

For the last unit of the Food! class at June Jordan we compared the economics behind large industrial farms and small organic farms in the US. Our project may not be completely scientific, but it was extremely interesting.

We compared USDA data for the average "large" US farm - definied as a farm with over $250,000 of income. The USDA says there are 151,000 large farms in the US - this makes up 7% of all the farms, but 59% of all farm production. That means a small number of big farms are growing most of our food.

Then, we called up a small organic family farm to see how they measured up. Small farms (income is less than $250,000) make up 90% of all US farms. But organic farms are less than 1% of all farms - there are only 8,000 certified organic farms in the US.

So, we compared the annual financial statement for a large farm and a small, organic farm. Here is what we found.

Large FarmSmall Organic Farm
Total Income$1.4 million$76,800
Net Profit
Amount of Government direct payment
Profit Margin
% of Costs spent on Fertility
7% (fertilizers and pesticides)
3% (compost)
% of Costs spent on Labor
What do you think? Which is more productive?

Where would you rather raise a family? The small, organic farm is eating all its own food, and trading for other foods the family doesn't grow.
The large farm eats less than 1% of its own food - most of what it produces is only good for animals to eat or to be processed.

Pictures of another small farm by Farmgirl of the wonderful Farmgirl Fare.

P.S. Read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma to learn more about industrial farm production and small-scale farming.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What's Ready in the Garden

It's that time . . . harvest time! We've been harvesting more than 6 kinds of greens like kale, collards, tatsoi, pac choi, mustard greens and chard. We're making delicious stir fry at several schools. There's excitement in the air!

Students are harvesting greens at Ida B Wells High School.

Squash is ready to eat . . .

The broccoli and fava beans are growing fast!

Check back to see our progress as we cook and eat all these tasty veggies!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dear Friend of Urban Sprouts,

You may have read in the news that California’s unparalleled obesity crisis has become an epidemic. Poor nutrition and health are the second leading cause of death and disability.

You may have seen in your community that more and more children cope with adult health problems, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

How can we allow this epidemic to touch our children? At the four San Francisco public schools where Urban Sprouts works, 50% of youth are overweight and 93% are considered unfit, according to state fitness standards. That is more than double the rate of overweight youth in the rest of San Francisco.

This astonishes me. Too many of the bright, opinionated and spunky youth I see every day at school are not getting the nutrition and daily exercise they need to grow strong and live long, healthy, and happy lives. And they are unfairly affected more than their peers from wealthier neighborhoods!

Everyday, in San Francisco, Urban Sprouts is helping urban youth to give their peers a different choice: fresh, healthy organic food grown right at their own schools. By nurturing living plants, harvesting and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, youth are nourishing their bodies and cultivating a commitment to healthy living.

This is why I’m urging you, right now, to click the “Donate Now” button above and make a donation of $35, $50, or $100. Your support for Urban Sprouts will make a meaningful difference.

By supporting Urban Sprouts, you’ll be providing school gardens where youth can connect deeply with peers, adults and the natural world, and eat veggies that taste of accomplishment and community, as well as good health.

Like me, you may notice the many teens who stop at mini marts on the way to school every morning and buy bags of neon red hot chips and super sized sweet drinks. Urban Sprouts seventh graders studied the nutrition facts on snacks and scooped the 25 teaspoons of sugar contained in one drink into a baggie to examine. We contemplated teenage depression and mood swings compounded by eating mass amounts of sugar.

Then, we went outside to the garden. The students dug their shovels into garden soil, using their strength to mix in nourishing compost, stopping only to admire graceful butterflies and wiggling worms. After 15 minutes we all stopped to take our pulses. Our hearts were beating at the recommended level for teens’ daily exercise. Whew! That felt amazingly good.

Urban Sprouts uses garden-based education to help urban youth make sense of the mixed messages they get from TV, parents, celebrities and peers about what to eat and why. When youth make educated choices about eating they have the power to resist media and marketing pressure and to live in a way that truly feels good.

I know you care about these issues as much as I do. That’s why I'm asking you for your help today. I want to offer you the chance to join the Urban Sprouts community yourself, as a donor and supporter.

Urban Sprouts was founded in 2003 by teachers from Luther Burbank Middle School and volunteers from the community who wanted to make a difference. Since then, over 450 youth have worked, played and explored in the garden. We’ve expanded to reach over 450 youth each year at four public schools: June Jordan School for Equity, Ida B. Wells Continuation High School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, and the Small Middle School for Equity (formerly Burbank).

You’ll be interested to know that Urban Sprouts is uniquely designed to support urban middle and high schools serving disadvantaged youth. At Urban Sprouts schools, over 60% of youth are from low-income families and over 95% are youth of color.

These are the schools most in need of school gardens: in San Francisco, only 15% of school gardens serve middle or high school youth and 30% of school gardens belong to economically disadvantaged schools. That’s why our model is so crucial, for youth here and in other cities.

Urban Sprouts’ four areas of impact are:
❋ Health and Nutrition
❋ Ecoliteracy & Eco-Actions
❋ Academic Performance
❋ Youth Development
Urban Sprouts supports urban schools using a four-tiered approach:

Garden-based science class: Over 450 students experience hands-on lessons in environmental science and nutrition, garden work, and cooking, led by our Garden Educators with teachers and volunteers.

Research-tested curriculum: Results of our evaluation research already show that students recognize, prefer and choose to eat more vegetables after Urban Sprouts’ lessons. Our research partners are Tufts University and UC Berkeley.

Family Connections: Urban Sprouts is piloting a new approach to low parent involvement in struggling urban middle schools. We’re using the school garden to engage families and help them improve the school through greening, healthy food, and more.

A Model to help other urban middle and high schools: The results of our research will help other urban middle and high schools replicate our program.

After only three years, the response to Urban Sprouts is inspiring. School principals tell us the growing garden brings a sense of pride, beauty, and meaning to the gray and bleak urban setting of their schools. Teachers tell us the cooperation, leadership and self-confidence of students in the garden brings tears to their eyes. Students tell us they’ve started asking their parents to cook special family meals with garden fresh ingredients.

The community connections that grow from the garden are the most nourishing and meaningful results of all. We want you to join us! By giving to Urban Sprouts right now, you will make an investment in the healthy future of our youth and our communities, and you get to be a part of school gardens, today!

Please join us today! CLICK HERE to DONATE NOW and give your gift of $35, $50 or $100.

Thank you very much.

Warm wishes to you,

Abby R. Jaramillo

Executive Director
abby AT urbansprouts DOT org

P.S. We need you! In addition to your gift, we invite you to the garden, to mentor students during the day, help with garden building projects, or to serve on our board. EMAIL ME to get involved!

P.P.S. Our fiscal sponsor, Urban Resource Systems, Inc, accepts online gifts on our behalf. When you click the "Donate Now" button you'll see URS's name, but your gift will be designated for Urban Sprouts' programs. Thanks!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Two Farming Systems

In the high school Food! class, we've been comparing large-scale industrial agriculture to small-scale diversified agriculture, through pictures, articles, websites and farmers' stories.

This photograph (left) by Peter Menzel shows pesticide spraying on a corn farm in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Below is a photo of a lettuce harvest in Arizona, but the same scene takes place right here in California. In class I shared stories from a trip I took to visit a large-scale lettuce harvest like this in Salinas. The pickers were covered up from head to toe to protect themselves, as they told us, from the chemicals left on the crop. The company rep leading our tour told us it was for "cultural reasons," because the farmworkers were Mexican and they "didn't want to get dark from the sun," plus, "the women always have to keep themselves covered." I could not believe my ears! It makes me wonder if the rest of the info they provide is true, either.

In class, we also looked at pictures and stories from small farms, like my friend Laurie's farm in New York state (see picture below). Here she's selling at the Farmers' Market there.

We read chapters from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, describing big corn farms compared to small diversified farms. We concluded that the difference between the two is a basic philosophy: small farmers utilize nature's cycles, and recycle energy and nutrients on the farm. One animal's waste is another crop's nutrients. On a big farm, it's an input-output system, imitating a factory rather than a cycle. Inputs are purchased and brought in, crops are produced as the output to be shipped away. Even waste is a cost to be dealt with, rather than an input to keep the cycle going.

We'll also read some writings by Masanobu Fukuoka and David Mas Masumoto. We'll explore the websites of many food giants, to try to follow the path from the farm, through food processing, out to the trucks and on to the supermarket. Where does the corn in corn syrup really come from, anyway??

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Garden Predators!

Yesterday we went on a garden safari in search of fierce predators in their natural habitat. It was just like a nature show. The students used their 5 senses, hand lenses, and Mac's Field Guide to California garden bugs as their only guide.

We had to be very quiet, patient, and observant. At first the garden seemed empty. We thought there was nothing to see. But as we moved in, and got right up close to the plants, a whole world of action, aggression, predation and pollination unfolded!

We identified insects and other creatures by the number of legs and the type of wings they have. Then, we tried to figure out what they were up to based on where we found them (like crawling on a plant leaf or flying near a flower).

We saw these aphids (bad for the garden - they eat our crops!) snacking on a sunflower.

Then, we noticed this ladybug and daddy long legs hanging around near by. The ladybug looks hungry! (good for the garden - predators who eat insects that eat our crops)

Finally, Luis and Jimmy noticed this huge bug. It had the looks of a fierce predator (seriously, it's like an inch long!), but Mr. Alexander identified it as a Squash Bug, an eater of plant juices and destroyer of crops, according to Mac's Field Guide. What do you think?

In the end, we decided that all these interdependent relationships between bugs and plants are very important to the garden. Insects need plants for food, insects need other insects for food, and plants need insects for pollination and therefore to reproduce and keep their species alive!

We marveled at the diversity of critters in our small, urban garden. Wouldn't it be a tragedy if we wiped it all out by spraying pesticides? The ladybugs will do a great job if we just give them some habitat! This approach is called Integrated Pest Management.

If you'd like to use our bug safari worksheet, contact us!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pre-Gopher - For the Record!

For the record, here are the beds we have planted at the June Jordan / SMSE garden so far.

See! No gopher damage! Well, OK, those few empty spots MIGHT be from just a small, snacking gopher. But look at our beautiful straight rows! In case the area is ravaged in a week, the proof is there.

I know, everyone's been telling me we've got to start trapping the little suckers. Any volunteers to help us out??

Look carefully at this sunflower photo.

Can you see why sunflowers are members of the Composite family? The middle yellow part of the sunflower is actually hundreds of tiny flowers, each one with a full set of reproductive parts, and each one makes its own seed. Can you see the ovary of each of the tiny flowers swelling up to turn into the seed? and the ring of tiny petals that makes up each individual flower? Many tiny flowers make up one big composite flower, the sunflower!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Search for Meaning

In Food class at June Jordan, we're starting to talk about cultural foods and the marketing of foods. I think lots of us have an instinctive disgust for processed foods, fast foods and the like, because those foods are so empty of meaning. We are being "sold" these foods, with TV ads, media images and celebrities. On the other hand, the rice and beans that grandma makes just give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of home. It's about foods with MEANING, that deep, inside, gut meaning that you just FEEL.

It's the same thing in my Fundraising class, where I'm a student. Think about this question for a minute: what is the most meaningful gift you've ever given someone? How did you feel? If you're like me, it almost makes you want to cry thinking about it. It felt so good. On a deeper level, authentic. It's not something you can teach someone, or explain, but if you get it, you know what meaningful giving feels like. It's so different from the exchange of buying and selling.

The search for meaning is easy in the garden. I mean, who can resist a young person discovering beans inside a pod, or worms in the ground? Every story in the garden has meaning. But the rest of the time, when we're not in the garden, it's harder.

I went to a meeting today, a group of garden education leaders who are working to promote garden-based education and elevate it to higher visibility and support. We talked and talked about how to take school gardens to the top, with district support, state support, legislation, etc. It seemed like such a long battle for a newbie like me.

Today, Delaine Eastin was in attendance (originator of California's "A Garden in Every School"). She spoke with experience of all the fights to fight and all the ways to take action and change the system. It sounded like a long, weary struggle. But when asked how she found meaning as state superintendent of schools, in the face of all these battles, Delaine said she always spent one day a week visiting a school. There, she'd find the one kid who runs up and gives you a hug. And tough as she is, it brought tears to her eyes. That's meaning. It's what gives us hope and keeps us real. And look how far school gardens have come!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Winter Crops on the Way

Students are busy at all three Urban Sprouts gardens, pulling out big, old raggedy plants, mixing in compost, smoothing it all out, and giving the new baby plants a cozy home.

We're starting over at the beginning of the school year, with a mix of students who gardened last year and students for whom this is all completely new. In the classroom there is some excitement, some anxiety, and with the middle schoolers, lots of fidgeting. But as soon as we get outside, we're seeing positive energy, cooperation, and delight.

Here are some step by step photos of the re-planting process, taken by student Karen Hu, from June Jordan.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Food Labels and Garden Exercise

Starbucks beverage: Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino® Blended Coffee, no whipped cream

These are the nutrition facts, from NutritionData.com, for a Starbucks Frappuccino, a popular beverage among the students in our June Jordan high school food class. This week we each kept a 24 hour food diary, and wrote down the nutrition facts for all the foods we ate. Then we totaled the following:
  • Percentage of calories from fat—in a healthy diet, should be 30% or less.
  • Total grams of sugar eaten in one day—should be less than 48g.
  • How much of the daily recommended dietary fiber are we eating? Should total 100% Daily Value for one day.
I did pretty well! I was amazed how much fiber I got from black beans. We measured in teaspoons all the sugar we ate and each put ours in a baggie. One Jamba Juice finished a student for the whole day, and another student needed to double bag his sugar collection. Next time we'll combine all our sugar in one bag and see how much a whole class eats in one day - yuck!

Today we figured out how much physical activity it takes to burn the calories from one of these Starbucks drinks. You can choose: Garden for 50 minutes, go running for 20 minutes, or watch TV for 3 hours and 20 minutes!

The daily recommended physical activity for teenagers is 30 minutes of moderate excercise. "Moderate excercise" means getting your heart rate up to 70% of your maximum. We calculated this (140 bpm for a teen), took our pulses, and headed out to the garden. After digging beds for 20 minutes, we all checked our pulses, and we were there! Our hearts were beating hard and we felt great. Who needs a frappuccino when gardening feels so good!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

School Food is Big News!

Food seems to be the hot topic of the minute. (I really hope it stays that way!) The San Francisco Chronicle has reported on healthy school lunches a lot lately (see photo at left).

This morning the Chronicle printed the following Letter to the Editor, referring to a recent article on four individuals who are making a difference in school food and youth health. The article neglected to mention a major movement: school garden-based education!!

If they grow it, they will eat it

Editor -- Your article on the changes occurring in our school cafeterias was heartening and the work being done by the four people you profiled is admirable ("Obesity war's latest battlefront: the school cafeteria,'' Aug. 28). You have overlooked, however, an excellent and powerful tool used by SFUSD and other school districts -- the school garden.

San Francisco has more than 30 school gardens, producing year-round nutritious food. It is not uncommon to see a class of fourth-graders tuck into a just-harvested salad of romaine, oak leaf lettuce, sliced carrots and radishes, decorated with borage and marigold petals.

Parents wonder what witchery was performed on their children. Why are they eating their vegetables? Quite simply, if they grow them, they'll eat them.

School gardens, or outdoor classrooms, masterfully integrate science, language arts, math and, of course, nutrition, and are an excellent hands-on experience for children.

The benefits of supporting school gardens are countless. Growing one's food is an empowering and authentic experience and compelling reason to get off the couch.

Just take a walk to Alice Fong Yu School or Lakeshore Elementary in the Sunset, or Willie Brown Jr. in the Bayview, or June Jordan in the Excelsior -- or any of the other excellent garden programs at your neighborhood school to see these outdoor classrooms in action.

ARDEN BUCKLIN-SPORER, Director of Educational Gardens, S.F. Unified School District

NAN McGUIRE, Green Schoolyard Alliance

Photo Credit: Craig Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, August 28, 2006

Where does Food come from?

Today was the first day back to school! Schedules are crazy, students are confused, but the adventure of the new year has begun. I started off today with our exciting new course called Food! at June Jordan School for Equity. I'm co-teaching the course with one of the school's Directors, Mr. Alexander.

Today we asked the question, "Where does our Food come from?" and students traced their favorite foods back to the source: plants and animals growing at happy, healthy farms. . . RIGHT?! All our first images of farms were tall red barns, green grass, animals grazing. Tomorrow we'll debate whether these images represent illusion or reality.

Here are some students' maps of the path of their food:


Friday, August 11, 2006

Food Politics: "What can I do?"

Before school starts, while I still have a minute to think about MY life, I've been reading up on ways we as consumers can vote with our dollars and support healthy, local, sustainably- and justly-grown foods. I've noticed Britt Bravo writing about such things a lot lately, so here are some links to hers and other bloggers' thoughts on how to make a difference through eating.

This year June Jordan School for Equity's teacher and co-director Matt Alexander has asked me to work with him on a course on food, and we hope to help students explore many of these issues. Stay tuned!

(Picture of Soil Born Farm, Sacramento, CA)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Wedding Bells in the Garden!

A little personal news . . . I got married! On July 29th in Los Altos, CA, in the beautiful garden of a close family friend, I tied the knot with Dennis Jaramillo. Be sure to note the name change: I am now Abby Jaramillo!! Can you believe it? E-mail me if you want to see more pics!

By the way, my entire wedding was planned and orchestrated by young people. Three high school students ran the show as their senior project--they even got school credit! This was a wonderful experience--I recommend it. Organic flowers from UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inspiration in Sacramento!

On Thursday I was invited to participate in an extremely inspiring tour of school garden work in Sacramento and Davis. The tour was hosted by Dan Desmond, a major guru in the field of garden-based education. Dan is a Fellow in the Kellogg Foundation's Food & Society Policy Fellowship, and he has connected his fellow fellows to garden-based education as a key link in the chain of food systems, nutrition education and policy.

I enjoyed an exciting day of getting to know these fellows. They are amazing role models for those of us working to build careers in the world of food systems, sustainable agriculture, nutrition and youth education.

Dan Desmond, UC Cooperative Extension
Melinda Hemmelgarn, 'Food Sleuth', Media Literacy specialist
Dr. Jennifer Wilkins, Cornell University & Cornell Farm to School Program
Susan Roberts, Director, Food & Society Policy Fellowship
Fern Gale Estrow, Nutrition Consultant (friend of the Fellows, not a Fellow herself)

Not only were my tour-mates inspiring, but the sites we visited were truly life-changing! In spite of the super intense central valley heat (110 degrees at least!!) we saw some beautiful urban farms run for youth, and even by youth, to bring healthy and sustainable food systems and education to youth and their communities. Our itinerary:

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
Judy Culbertson, Executive Director
Connected to the state Farm Bureau and the national ag in the classroom org, CFAITC provides glossy curriculum materials to help teachers educate young people about agriculture. Although limited by the requirement of no negative press for agriculture--period--their materials are great.

Grant High School–Garden of Ethnic American Treasures (EAT)

Ann Marie Kennedy, Garden Teacher and Director
High school students run this beautiful school garden as an after school intership for school credit (ag vocational credit, too, a new one for us city kids) and in school as part of biology classes. They grow, harvest, cook and eat their own food, run a cut flower business, and run a salsa buisness that they manage and market for. This summer Workreation students, part of a Sacramento city youth employment program, visit the garden once a week to work, cook and eat fresh food. This program is all about youth leadership and youth development. They have a LOT to teach the rest of us!

Soil Born Farm
Shawn Harrison, Executive Director
This is a full on urban farm, right next to Jonas Salk Middle School in Sacramento. Besides providing garden-based education at the school they are a real working farm, with farm apprentices, that sells produce through their CSA and other markets, while also providing food to the local low-income community and education to the students at the school. A real farm, with profit-making activities! Amazing. Pics on this post were taken at Soil Born Farm (see school bus in background!).

University of California, Davis: Sustainable Food Systems
Mark Van Horn, Director, Organic Farming, Student Farm & Ecological Gardens
Children's Garden: Carol Hillhouse, Director; Jeri Ohmart & Katie Hume, Coordinators
Jane Pinckney, Growing Connections
UC Davis has a beautiful student farm and children's garden that has a CSA for students and faculty, educational garden tours for kids and school groups, training and support for teachers and schools in school garden-based education, and an internship program for university students. So much stuff going on! They are getting ready to start a new center of sustainable ag studies including an undergraduate major.

UC School Nutrition Research Group
Another connected group is the UC Davis Department of Nutrition, presented to us by another food systems role model, Marilyn Briggs. Marilyn was the assistant superintendent for the
state of California and state Director of Nutrition Services, and she is now working on her doctorate in nutrition sciences at Davis with researchers like Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr. This group is creating the Center for Nutrition Education in Schools and has big plans to support California schools and families through nutrition education including garden-based education.

The folks and UC Davis and at CFAITC are both founding members of the California School Garden Network, another of my favorite resources.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Part 3: School Gardens and Civil Society

Since the earliest reflections on the nonprofit or voluntary sector in the US, people have described the nonprofit sector as a pillar of US democracy. Without nonprofits, we would not have the kind of freedom we enjoy today. It is that simple.

In fact, school garden-based education programs in schools can play a key role in solving the major challenges facing US public education: they can impact youth health, low academic achievement and chaotic school climate, and even the drastic inequality between urban public schools and predominantly white suburban schools.

Pretty bold statements, right? Theory and research are on my side! Let me explain.

Theory: Nonprofits as Mediating Institutions
Many theorists, starting with
Alexis de Tocqueville in 1840, have remarked that voluntary associations in civil life are directly linked to equality in US society. Why? Our founding fathers intentionally created a decentralized system, so no individual would ever have too much power. The result? We came up with another way for individuals to have power and voice: nonprofits. Nonprofits mediate between the public and private spheres, bringing private values into the public sector (Berger & Neuhaus, 1977). Without these, the political system would be detached from our values and daily realities. Active participation of the people is necessary to bring meaning and values into those large, faceless government bureacracies, and to bring the voice of communities into the political system. How many times have you felt helpless, powerless, and treated as less than human when you, alone, deal with tax offices, parking tickets, the justice system, or even the school system?!

How do people in the US band together to voice their needs and make changes? The voluntary sector. All the major social movements have worked through nonprofits, from abolition through civil rights to now.

According to this theory, we would expect public education to be a huge, dehumanizing government bureacracy, neglecting the voices and values of the people, as long as it is not connected to the voluntary sector. What do you think?

Public Education: Factory, Bureaucracy or Community?
In fact, studies show exactly that!
  • Civil society and democracy have deteriorated in the US public education system in the last 100 years as local control is stripped away, schools are consolidated into large districts run by distant officials, and state and federal regulation is greatly expanded (Finn et al., 2000). Community responsibility is way down.
  • As a result, inequality and segregation are growing at a horrific rate, in successful schools in suburban, white and middle-class areas and failing urban schools serving low-income families of color. Teachers in dilapidated and overcrowded urban schools are under demands from above to use classroom methods developed for factories or for prison inmates, reducing schools to centers of "direct command and absolute control." Teachers struggle to maintain human relationships under such conditions, (Kozol, 2005).
  • In urban school districts, efficient, professionalized, and standardized schools have cultivated a culture of power, in which teachers learn “deficit” views of parents, and see low-income parents of color with disdain and disrespect, and at fault for the barriers to their children’s success, while concentrated poverty and racism are the real causes (Warren, 2005).
Under these conditions of extreme structural inequality, it is no surprise that we find very little voluntary activity, few PTA groups, and very low parent involvement in urban public schools.

There is Hope! Parent Organizing in Schools
If you take a closer look at your neighborhood schools, you will undoubtedly find inspiring examples of community members rising up to organize voluntary activity and inject community values into these seemingly impenetrable and bureaucratic schools.

Warren (2005) and
Gold et al. (2004) offer examples of community groups like Oakland Community Organizations and Chicago's Logan Square Neighborhood Association that have successfully improved failing urban schools. Such organizations empower parents through group programs that address the inequality of racism and poverty while giving parents new skills and opportunities to contribute meaningfully to their children’s schools. The key is building social capital, or leveraging strong personal relationships to enable groups of people to make change. When groups come together, in voluntary action (i.e. nonprofits or mediating instutitions), those individual parents can hold governments accountable for the sickening injustice in public schools.

Putting the Pieces Together: School Gardens!
Now let me tell you the reasons why school gardens can help schools do all this and more.

1. School garden programs can build social capital and leadership in order to transform parent involvement in public education.
  • All four of my case study schools described parent involvement as a crucial piece of the school garden program. At one school, parents created and sustained the garden. At the other three, the school garden has begun to create and sustain parent involvement. These are urban schools where the above issues are serious, and parents come to the garden anxious to voice opinions on a wide range of issues.
  • Schools report that gardens provide an entrance to school involvement for many parents, particularly immigrant parents with agrarian backgrounds (CDE, 2002), who may feel uncomfortable in other aspects of the school, but bring great knowledge and experience to the garden.
  • A successful program in San Bernardino used school gardens to build meaningful school participation among Latina mothers. The mothers created gardening skill workshops, gardening space at their children’s school, an adult aerobics class, and got the ear of the school principal, with the goal of improving youth and adult health and nutrition (Silberstein & Vega, 2004).
2. School Garden-based Education builds youths' attitudes, relationships and skills necessary for participation in civil life, also creating "civil society" in the internal school community.
  • Urban Sprouts own preliminary research results show that school garden programs are powerful ways to build youth and adult relationships, and youth resiliency assets like responsibility, self-efficacy, cooperation and communication (Ratcliffe et al, 2006).
  • Youth development theory shows that these assets prepare students for success as participating citizens in early adulthood (Gambone et al., 1997).
  • Having a garden may have school-wide effects on school climate and culture, as relationships and values of care developed in the school garden translate to the school community as a whole (Racliffe et al., 2006; Comnes, 1999).
  • School garden programs often lead to other school-wide improvement projects, educational campaigns, and other youth-led leadership projects.
So, we see that school gardens can build participation and equality within public schools. In the four case studies, the school gardens are supported by voluntary (nonprofit) organizations.

The Big Question: is it necessary that school gardens be supported by community nonprofits, in order to build civil society and equality in public schools? If government in the form of school districts were to take over or partner in the administration of school garden programs, would their role as mediating institutions be changed or diminished?

Stay tuned, and next time I'll discuss partnership between nonprofits and government.

(see comments for Works Cited)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Part 2: Weaknesses of Nonprofits

Continuing from last post about the compatibility between school garden programs and the nonprofit sector, this time I'll cover some of the potential weaknesses of the nonprofit sector, which suggest that partnering with the government sector (like the public school system) might benefit us.

Theory: In his theory of Voluntary Failure, Lester Salamon (1995) identifies four potential weaknesses of the nonprofit (NP) sector.

Philanthropic insufficiency—NPs tend not to generate enough reliable funding to meet the demand for services. This is due in part to the “free rider” problem: giving relies on voluntary donations, so individuals have the incentive to let others bear most of the cost of providing a given service. Also, giving is affected by the ups and downs of the economy as well as by geographic availability of philanthropic and wealthy individuals, both of which tend to provide less funding when and where it is needed most.

Philanthropic particularism— philanthropic individuals tend to favor certain subgroups, such as those they themselves belong to, more than others. Those individuals who either provide resources or organize nonprofit organizations may not adequately represent those communities most in need of resources, often leaving substantial gaps in coverage of service.

Philanthropic paternalism—the most influential and powerful members of a community may control its charitable resources and may determine the goals and activities of the sector in an undemocratic way. Those most in need of charitable services will not be able to make decisions regarding the services available to them, causing a dependent relationship between those giving and receiving charitable aid.

Philanthropic amateurism— NPs often provide amateur services staffed by volunteers, lacking professional training and professionalized models of service provision. Fortunately, trends in the last century have favored professionalized care in many subsectors of the nonprofit sector, but school garden-based education still has a ways to go!

Moving on to the Case Studies!

I looked at stats on all the public school garden programs in San Francisco along with my case study interviews, keeping voluntary failure theory in mind, and noticed the following possible trends:
  • More SF elementary schools have gardens than middle and high schools. (85% of SF school gardens serve elementary schools; 40% of all elemenary schools have gardens, compared to 18% of middle schools and 10% of high schools);
  • More school gardens serve San Francisco’s western neighborhoods than the city’s south and eastern neighborhoods, where low-income families are concentrated (36% of gardens are in the south and/or east);
  • Schools identified by SFUSD as low-performing are underrepresented in schools with gardens, particularly among middle schools;
  • Parent involvement: more likely for schools with strong PTAs to have school gardens. Are better-resourced schools more likely to have strong PTAs?
  • Community nonprofits: more likely to target under-served communities. Is there a link between community socioeconomic status and the effectiveness of PTAs compared to community nonprofits as a support structure for school gardens?
  • Need to professionalize field of garden-based education: need secure, full-time positions in order to retain high-quality trained school garden educators and leaders, unlikely to be accomplished by amateur voluntary associations like PTAs or Garden Committees made up of parents and teachers only.
Any thoughts or feedback so far? Next post I'll describe another way of looking at the nonprofit sector, as a central core pillar of our US democracy, the generator of civil society, participation and voice. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Part 1: Should School Gardens be Nonprofits?

Summer is here, schools are empty, and Urban Sprouts is in rest and reflection mode. Instead of teaching classes, I am focusing on my own classes as a student, in USF's Masters of Nonprofit Administration program. USF provides a strong theoretical background for all those nonprofit skills most of us learn as we go.

Our first course covered the history of nonprofits in the US and theories of how and why the nonprofit sector operates. I wrote a paper on the school garden movement in the Bay Area. I wanted to know if it makes sense that we use the nonprofit sector to provide important educational services inside the public school district. Are we just giving the government cool stuff for free? I learned some interesting things through my research, which resulted in Urban Sprouts' decisions 1) to deepen our government partnerships, and 2) to develop a program to intentionally involve middle and high school parents in our school garden work.

In the next few posts, I'll tell you more about what I learned.

First, I found that the nonprofit or voluntary sector is often used to provide school gardens because the public or government sector doesn't.

Theory: The first theories I looked at, market failure and government failure* theories, explain that the free market will not provide the right amount of a public good, because people are not willing pay for something that they can get for free. That's why governments use tax dollars to pay for things like bridges, libraries and national defense. However, governments can only provide things that the majority of people know they want. Services that are innovative, new, untested, will go unprovided. This may leave a significant number of people unsatisfied. Here the nonprofit sector comes in. It meets the need for diverse, experimental and grassroots activities, initiated by us, the people, without waiting around for the big, slow government system to kick in and meet our needs.

Case Studies: I gathered information on four school gardens to use as case studies, three in SF and one in the South Bay. I found that:

  • All four gardens were supported by voluntary organizations (aka nonprofits)
  • Three were initiated by parents and/or teachers and one by an outside nonprofit based in the neighborhood
  • Schools say they need School Garden Coordinators: teachers cannot drive school garden programs alone, due to time constraints and lack of knowledge.
  • All four schools chose not to administer the school garden program through the schools (local district bureaucracy), because of: School budget constraints; Delays in processing donations and receiving funds; Loss of flexibility by running funding and staffing decisions through district ;Administrative instability: changes in district leadership, school administration; Political instability: changes in district-wide goals and priorities.
  • All four chose voluntary sector solutions to administer the school garden program: one PTA, two school garden nonprofit orgs, one other community nonprofit.
Next time: weaknesses of the nonprofit sector!

P.S. I know you're used to cute stories about what the kids are doing, so tell me if you think this stuff is boring!

* Good reading: Salamon, Lester M. (1995). Partners in Public Service; Smith, Steven Rathgeb, and Lipsky, Michael. (1993). Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Read from 'Taste Our Lives'

Here is a sample of the students' zine, Taste Our Lives, created using Photovoice technique (see previous post). Enjoy!


You are about take a little trip into our lives. We hope that you will see the different points of view from each of the authors’ experiences. As you read our “Zine,” you will see that many of our lives are connected. In our stories, we interviewed one person in our family and took photographs of what they cooked for us. First, we asked questions about the food and then we asked about the food’s history in our family. After reading our “Zine,” we hope you will have a greater appreciation of our food and our culture.
—7th Grade Peer Resources,
Luther Burbank Middle School
San Francisco, CA
June 2006
My Dad’s Making Chicken!

My dad is in the kitchen cutting something.
I asked him, “What are you making?”
He said, “Chicken, why?”
I said, “Because I am doing a project in class. Can you help me with it?”
My dad said, “Sure!”
Then I asked him, “Do you like to make it?”
He said, “Yes, I love to make it!” So, I watched him make it and put the chicken in the grease to be fried.
I asked my dad, “Who did you get the recipe from?”
He said, “I got it from my mom and my mom got it from her mom.”
Then I asked him, “Does it have a meaning?”
He said, “The meaning is showing how our family cooks. We all cook the same way and we all share the same recipe. That’s why our family are good cooks!” This was a fun way to talk to my dad about food because I don’t really talk to him about that. I had fun and I think he had fun, too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

'Taste Our Lives' Zine & Party

At Burbank, Ms. Boggess' 7th grade Peer Resource group celebrated a very exciting project. With this class, we used Photovoice, a technique in which participants take photographs of their communities and use them to stimulate dialogue and a process of social change. The students created a zine called Taste Our Lives to present their work.

First, Burbank students took pictures of foods they eat in order to analyze their nutrition habits. In our first round of pictures, many took pictures of bags of hot chips from the store, or sodas from fast food restaurants. In the second round of pictures, they chose to focus on cultural or family foods, and why those "real" foods, made from whole ingredients and family recipes, are important to them. Students interviewed family members as they photographed what took place in the kitchen. At each step of the project, students took pictures, discussed them, wrote about them, and made sense of them.

Early in the project, the class did nutrition education activities, like the time we tested sugar content of different drinks. These same students are expert gardeners, who have cared for the garden since 6th grade.

As the students turned their photos and interviews into Photovoice essays, they decided to create a zine and invite the people they interviewed to celebrate, cook and eat all together. Tuesday night was the big event! Several "stars" of the zine arrived to celebrate with us. We harvested in the garden together, cooked delicious stir fry, enjoyed a relaxing meal, and made smoothies for dessert! Check back in a few days to see some Photovoice stories from the zine.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Salad Day, Part 2 and Garden Party!

Congratulations to Burbank students for their successful end of the year Salad Day! Students from three classes of sixth and seventh graders harvested and prepared salad from the school garden and served it for the entire school at lunch. Youth and adults alike were grabbing salad bowls and eating up the tasty greens, with or without ranch dressing!

Several members of the press attended the event, interviewed students and took photo and video footage of the day's events for NBC's evening news, the SF Examiner (see above), KCBS radio news, and Sing Tao news. Students showed off their knowledge of gardening and the benefits of eating healthy food. The school was buzzing from all the excitement, and students were definitely recognized for their hard work in the garden throughout the year.

Then, on Saturday, we had a Garden Party Work Day at Burbank attended by teachers, students, families and volunteers. We got a LOT of work done: we weeded the entire garden, planted beans, corn, turnips and sunflowers, caught a gopher, and enjoyed stir fry and chips & salsa made from garden-grown ingredients. Thank you, Garden Party attendees!

As the year winds down, in class we're doing closing circles that involve strawberries and appreciations, along with some end of the year reflection. We are gathering students' and teachers' thoughts about the year's successes, challenges, and learning through recorded focus groups and individual interviews. Later in the summer when all the info is compiled, I'll be sure to share the results. Hopefully positive outcomes will help all of us to show how important school gardens are in helping young people grow and develop, and in building a supportive school community.