Monday, January 30, 2006

Abby Interviewed by Net2

Check out this interview with me about the Urban Sprouts blog and the benefits of blogging to small nonprofits.

The interview was done by Marshall of NetSquared, a project dedicated to helping nonprofits take advantage of emerging technology. A big thanks to Britt Bravo, also of NetSquared, who helped me to get started and see the benefits of blogging in the first place!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Guest Chefs visit Burbank M.S.

Today guest chef-educators Megan and Rania came from NextCourse to do a lesson. We had a great day! As Megan led the lesson, I had fun getting to sit back and be part of the crowd, helping students to stay quiet and participate, but also getting to chat and joke with them while the group was eating and learning together. Getting to enjoy my connection with the students, rather than being the ringmaster directing traffic up on stage. Especially with students who have stayed for after school, I appreciated how familiar they are with me, trusting me. Today I could give them individualized roles, when individuals had trouble with the group assignment, and be thoughtful and careful because I wasn’t under the stress of having to manage the whole group of 30 alone. Having over 6 adults made the biggest difference.

Megan did a great lesson, focusing on the difference between whole foods and processed foods. She had examples of both for students to see, like potatoes and chips, real oats and cereal, milk and ice cream. Then she led an exercise that led students along the path an orange takes from a local farm to homemade juice, versus from an overseas farm to the processing plant to bottled orange juice in the store. The students did a great job of paying attention and participating.

First, Megan asked the group about the garden, about what they’ve been growing there and how they’ve been growing it. It was great to see how much the students had to say. They talked about how they have improved the soil with compost and wood chips, and by weeding and watering. They mentioned all kinds of critters we’ve seen (snails, gophers, worms) and foods we’ve tasted (mint, strawberries, potatoes).

Lastly, Megan and Rania led the students in squeezing orange juice and mixing up salsa from fresh ingredients. While the students helped making food, they told Rania about the foods they’ve made. Tyrell told her how he made the French fries at the garden party. Before we went outside he even asked me, “Are we going to cook in a wok?” Megan also remarked that they have learned so much, about the garden and the food in it, and that all the being, doing and connecting in the garden teach much more than words can get across.

It’s amazing to see the evidence in action. These are young people who, without thinking twice, buy chips and soda at the store every day. These same students are talking all about organic food, about cooking with woks, harvesting potatoes and mint, and getting exciting about it. This is clearly a shift in attitudes and beliefs, and in preferences. They are tasting and eating whole foods. They haven’t yet made the change in behavior overall, but they make smaller choices every day when they choose to eat from the garden and tell others about it. Megan said one of her students made his own choice to throw out his bag of Cheetos when he came to her class.

As teachers, we worry so much that the students are getting “enough” curriculum on every subject we want them to learn all about. But the most significant thing I ever learned in school was how to learn for myself: how to think, how to ask questions, and how to find out the answers myself. In the garden, students watch a plant grow and fruit, or watch a plant die as it gets dragged down a gopher hole or munched by snails. These things teach the students so much more than any curriculum, no matter how interactive.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Final Word: School Closed

The School Board has made their decision to close Luther Burbank Middle School, and along with two other closures, four schools will merge into two, and about seven more will be relocated. It may not be such bad news for Urban Sprouts, because the new school we'll get, Aim High Academy, looks promising. Of course we worry how the closures will affect sutdents. Will they be able to attend the merged or relocated schools, some much farther from home? Will they enroll in new schools and be happy there? All this remains to be seen.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Class Notes: Ida B. Wells H.S.

The first period class was reluctant today. Can’t really blame them since it was gray and drizzly. Second period was good—a core of students want to work in the garden so the momentum is good. It’s the first period group that complains endlessly. It started out gray but the sun unexpectedly came out, strong, warm and beautiful.

Nyra, Alex, Javone and Jose have been asking me about how they can grow plants at home in their own yards. So I’ve decided to focus on crop planning and research on plant needs. I put together a packet to guide students through the research. It includes a journaling guide for them to monitor their seed/plant over time. I think now that everyone has experience digging, planting, harvesting, it’s time to develop their own skills as gardeners, their continuity with the plants over time, and their own responsibility to the garden. I think they’re ready—maybe that’s what the complaining is starting to be about. Asking for influence.

So far, the students have really engaged with the research project, looking up plants in the Sunset book, seed catalogs and on the Internet. Learning scientific names, plant families, and crop origins. High expectations really pay off.

Another exciting opportunity—I was getting my delicious sandwich at Eric’s Alamo Square deli down the block and I was telling him about the garden. He got very interested, talking about his mom’s garden back in Jamaica Plain and how all the neighbors had gardens. He asked if we were selling anything, said he could use red-leaf lettuce, cukes, peppers, tomatoes, a whole bunch of veggies. He’ll buy them from us! So I went back to school and told students and teachers, and they got VERY excited! Several teachers advised me on how to start a field study project. Ms. Friel even has an entrepreneurship curriculum we can start with, to create a business plan and combine it with crop planning. Everyone’s talking about it.

It was great to have the teachers’ advice on how make the work the right level, the right amount, and the right balance between independent work and a group project. There’s SO much potential in this neighborhood to sell produce or even run a market cart near the park. This is going to be great.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Class Notes: Luther Burbank M.S.

A good day. The Special Day Class took a long time to get ready, some students were not cooperating and others were pretty hyperactive. Finally, we discussed different nutrients and the foods they come from. They really engaged, talking about junk food and sugar and how they affect your energy, and make you tired, frustrated and cranky. Then, one student noticed a huge bird in the tree outside the window. It was the hawk from the park, but it was just sitting on a branch, totally still and very camouflaged. I was amazed that he spotted it. Then it took off into the air, was huge and beautiful, and the whole class stood up to watch it.

We went outside to the garden, had a hard time walking in the halls, but the time in the garden was great. The students did an EXCELLENT job weeding—they looked for all the oxalis (“sour grass”) and counted how many plants each one of them pulled. Ms. DeSnoo kept track of how many each person pulled and rewarded them accordingly. One student even noticed that you could count each plant by looking at the root, since each has one taproot, and count how many separate plants he pulled. That was great. They got a lot done!

Later, with Perez’s class, I worked with the easily distractables—my crew from the after school program. They always want to spray each other with the hose and run around, but they’re starting to really know their way around the garden. They play a lot, but they have a relationship to the garden and a familiarity that is really growing. They recognize plants and weeds, and insects, too. Even when watering, they have a care-taking sensibility about it now, I think.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Gift of Green

Sometimes the darkness of winter gets me down, but this Christmas gift from Urban Sprouts’ friend Jessica to her mom really made my day. Jessica made a gift to Urban Sprouts, dedicating a new garden in honor of her grandma. Jessica’s mom sent me this note after receiving her Christmas gift.
Jess and Sam (Droste Yagan) shared with me their wonderful gift of the addition of a new tier at one of your high school garden beds - in memory of my mother, Dorothy Harris (Jess' grandma). I am truly thrilled about such a meaningful gift (my mom would be delighted as well).

Jess said I need to give thought to a stone for the art students to design, which I will. What a great idea! I sincerely admire your program and all your dedication and hard work. My ultimate goal would be to create a similar program somewhere around here. As this is a rural, agrarian community, the actual vegetable gardening is probably not as meaningful to as many kids, but the value placed on stewardship of the land and sustainable leadership and a spirit of volunteerism among young people is critical no matter where you are in the world - also, the emphasis on wellness and nutrition.

Thank you for your dedication to youth and gardening, and, especially, your commitment to impact positive change in the world - one person at a time. People like you and Jess are indeed making a difference in the world. It makes me feel very proud. I truly can see my mother smiling about a project like yours!

Most sincerely -

Sherry Droste

New Garden Area at Wells H.S.

Wells' art students have a design for ceramic tiles that we'll attach to the fences surrounding the garden, to create garden dedications and memorials. You can add one as part of your donation to Urban Sprouts, of $125, $250 or above.

I have to say it was tough this week, coming back after break to the threat of school closures. But, happily, the sun shined on us in the garden on Wednesday at Ida B. Wells, and four science and art classes relaxed in the sun while pulling weeds, sketching and munching on greens.