Friday, December 28, 2007

Garden Greetings from Japan

Urban Sprouts volunteer Zia Hrdy recently sent me this update on her adventures in Japan, where she lives and teaches. School gardens come naturally there! We miss Zia and look forward to her homecoming! She was an extremely dedicated garden volunteer at Ida B. Wells High School during 2005-06. Top photo is Zia with her first graders; below kids make garden-grown lunch; at bottom, persimmons drying.

The past year and a half in Japan has been wonderful. I've been living in a little farming village in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. I teach English at 1 junior high and 2 elementary schools and gardening is very much a part of school life here. Each grade level has its own little plot on school grounds, and the garden touches so many aspects of the curriculum here. The hallways are lined with chrysanthemum bushes grown by the first graders, sunflower seeds find their way into math classes, and popcorn has been popping into all the teachers' offices after being grown, harvested, and cooked by the fourth graders. Seasonal flowers are brought in by teachers from their own home gardens. There is always at least one vase full of flowers in the entry ways at school. Such a nice touch!

There seem to be no hangups about bringing food from the gardens straight into the mouths at school. The students put on their goofy gumboots, tromp out to the dirt and stick their hands right in! The harvest is divided among classmates or taken straight to the cafeteria kitchen. Last week, Japanese pumpkins were in school lunch every day after a harvest at one of the schools. This meant many variations on pumpkin soup, fried pumpkin tempura, and steamed pumpkin. One day, we spent a morning at elementary roasting sweet potatoes in a fire of dead leaves, and then by tea time we were devouring the soft sweet gooiness! The kids aren't even phased by cooking with weeds. Last spring, the 8th graders pounded rice with wild mugwort they had weeded from their plots and made fresh mochi. We also pulled purslane from the beds that day. The students were a bit surprised when I took it home to plant in my garden. They didn't know what great omelets it makes!

In addition to straying into the gardens during my free periods, I've been wandering into the hills and farm stands to find wild vegetables with new friends and teachers. So many strange delights! This year I've met all sorts of strange shoots and leaves – bamboo shoots dug from underground, translucent horsetails picked after the first rain, a dusty purple pod-bearing vine called akebi that makes interesting tempura, and more mushrooms than I have ever seen at the Ferry Building!

Winter cold is winding down the foraging and farming season though, and now everyone is working to preserve their produce. Chinese cabbages are split to reveal their curly centers and laid on planks to wilt before becoming kimuchi. The daikons are braided and hung for a few weeks before being turned to crunchy pickles. Long strings of persimmons hang and dry in enormous open barns – the buildings seem to actually glow orange just before dusk, they are so full of bright fruit. They'll soon be sticky sugary masses, akin to dried dates and good for naturally sweetening cakes!

—Zia Hrdy
Nagano, Japan, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Updates from MLK Middle School!

photos: preparing a "winter fruit-root salad" and a bed of kale and chard!

As the days get shorter and cooler, we have been busily tending our winter crops at the MLK Middle School garden. We have kale, chard, bok choi, broccoli, romanesco, fava beans, beets, and carrots growing, which will make for a yummy feast once we get back from the holiday break! Last week we made some delicious “winter fruit-root” salads with lettuce, apple, pears, carrots, dried cranberries, and a lemon salad dressing made with lemons from our own tree. The students gobbled it all up, and some students asked for the recipe so they can make it at home!

In other news, we kicked off our new after-school “Garden and Ecology Club” by creating “worm hotels” and getting to know these wiggly friends up close and personal. Creating a small worm bin is a great way to continue to help your garden throughout the wintry months – just mix up your vegetable kitchen scraps with some red wiggler worms and newspaper, and come springtime you’ll have wonderfully rich worm compost to feed your plants!

I savor experiences like these – they are what make my work so much fun! In the few months since I started working with Urban Sprouts, I have been amazed time and time again to see youth transform when they are in a safe and nurturing garden environment. I have seen kids overcome their fears of dirt to learn how to make compost and maintain a worm bin. I have seen students with severe behavioral problems inside the classroom go out to the garden and eagerly cooperate with classmates and teachers. I have had students come up to me after trying new fruits and vegetables to tell me, “I almost never eat vegetables at home… can I have seconds?” I am already looking forward to the springtime of gardening and eating ahead!

Youth Garden Designers!

At the campus shared by Excelsior (middle school) and June Jordan (high school), behind the school garden lies a huge open field area currently used for nothing . . . but we are making plans!

This semester the Food class at June Jordan took the first crack at designing the new garden space. Students
listed elements we want in the new space, measured the space, and drew plans for their dream garden.

Inspired by the baby chicks and piglets we visited at Hidden Villa, the students incorporated a chicken coop and run into many of their designs. Lisa provided the garden design curriculum she's been working on, and teacher Mr. Olsson added a peer critique. Students used stickies to give feedback on each other's work.

Here are examples of students' designs (click on each one to see it close up for all the detail!):

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ida B Wells' 5-Leaf Stir-Fry

Ida B Wells High school students recently harvested 5 varieties of greens and 4 varieties of lettuce and prepared a meal showcasing the diversity of cool season crops! One student took these beautiful photos of her peers engaged in cooperative work:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Note on Generosity

Heading into the holiday season has me thinking about generosity. The holidays of the winter season invite us to take a moment to be deeply grateful for all the unique and inspiring opportunities, strokes of luck and amazing people we have had the fortune to encounter. Being in the spirit, I would like to take this moment to convey how moved I am by the work of our volunteers. Urban Sprouts has had the most generous volunteers helping us build our gardens, work with youth in classes and assist us with our ongoing research projects.

It is an amazing sight to see parents and other community members hauling mulch, digging beds and generally working with great patience to ensure that youth can grow vegetables in their very own school gardens. It seems to me there is no way to thank our volunteers enough. I am often humbled to wordlessness by their acts of giving. Yet, I try.

I would like to give a very special thanks to Molly, Sky, Jessica, Casey, Caitlin, the parents and neighbors of Aptos Middle School, the Sutter Health folks and our friends at Skywire Software for all their hard work! I thank you all for making this holiday season warmer and richer with your generosity.

Happy Holidays,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why do we have so much STUFF?

The Story of Stuff:
Ever wonder why you get the URGE to SHOP even though you KNOW that wanting more stuff is what makes us trash our environment? Free Range Studios just came out with this great new video that tells the whole story . . . how we use up nature in order to make toxic products that all end up in the dump. Watch the video and share it with your students and friends. All the facts are here, about external costs, mining, advertising, shopping, pollution, etc etc.

Don't worry! The story can have a happy ending . . . if you want it!

Watch the video.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Chance for You to make a difference!

What do you think is the most urgent issue we face today? Global warming, youth obesity, national security, unemployment, urban violence . . . a few that come to mind. Did you know that school gardens can make a real difference in all these areas?

It’s well known today one in four children in the US is overweight [1]; this number is one in three at Urban Sprouts’ partner schools [2]. Our children are facing serious health problems unseen in previous generations before the age of 50 [3]. Urban Sprouts has shown that youth engaged in growing their own food eat more fruits and vegetables and teach their peers and families how to eat healthier.

Now, the threat of global warming is real, and school gardens inspire youth to teach their families how to protect the planet by driving less, eating locally-grown food, and keeping recyclables and compostables out of landfills.

In our grandparents’ generation, several million school children contributed to the war effort by feeding our country from school gardens, in name of the US School Garden Army [4]. Perhaps it’s time our children do the same, to protect us from the soaring cost of the oil that produces our industrial food crops and transports them to our door.

For all these reasons, Urban Sprouts helps urban youth to grow fresh, healthy organic food right at their own schools. By nurturing living plants, and by harvesting and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, youth are nourishing their bodies and cultivating a commitment to healthy living and a healthy environment.

This is why I’m inviting you, right now, to CLICK HERE and give a gift of $35, $50 or $100. Your support for Urban Sprouts will make a meaningful difference.

First of all, I want to tell you why school gardens are so meaningful to me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Seeds of Hope Sprouting

Urban Sprouts would like to thank Mr. Ed Wilkins, Director of the San Francisco Student Nutrition Services (SNS) for his personal commitment to improve San Francisco’s public school lunches. Mr. Wilkins has informed Urban Sprouts that with a grant from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office and the SF Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, SNS is installing salad bars in fifteen middle schools and high schools, including two Urban Sprouts' sites. Mr. Wilkins expressed that he expects a salad bar to open at June Jordan Small School for Equity and Excelsior Middle School (these two school share a cafeteria) in November 2007 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School shortly thereafter. In addition, SNS is working with vendors that can provide organic California grown produce to these salad bars. These are promising steps for our district to be taking for the health of our youth. We are deeply appreciative and hope Mr. Wilkins keeps up the good work!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Urban Sprouts feeds journalist Michael Pollan at Turning the Tables!

photo: students at Excelsior Middle School harvest kale

Turning the Tables is series of events at Fort Mason that brings key environmental, farming, health, and policy-making figures to the table to discuss critical food and environmental issues. These "working dinners" feature guest speakers, interactive discussions, and cuisine from the area's top chefs.

The premier event on Oct. 26th, "The Perfect Dinner", featured journalist Michael Pollan, (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma) and included veggies grown in Urban Sprouts' gardens! Pollan and others munched on kale and cucumbers grown by students at Excelsior Middle School, June Jordan School for Equity, and MLK Middle School. Pollan is a great advocate for locally grown, organic food and we feel honored to have participated in this event!

Partying in the garden!

On October 20th and 27th, we held our fall garden parties at the MLK Middle School and Excelsior Middle School gardens! Both were loads of fun - students, teachers, and volunteers worked on garden projects such as planting, weeding, building bean teepees, and sheet mulching. We ended the parties by harvesting veggies and cooking lunch together!

At MLK students cooked up a peanut stir-fry and sunchoke salad, and at Excelsior we had cheese quesadillas and salsa fresca. At both events we made a delicious sun tea with lemons and herbs fresh from the garden. Yum!
Here are some photos of the events:

Friday, October 26, 2007

JJSE's Digital Food Map

Students in the Food Class at June Jordan created this digital map using Google maps. Each student mapped the four places they go most often for food - including grocery stores, corner stores, farmers' markets, fast food joints, and more. (Note: this map represents the places we CHOOSE to eat, not all the available food places we have access to.)

Blue marker = student's home
Red marker = place to get unhealthy food
Green marker = place to get healthy food

View Larger Map

San Francisco has 3.85 times more unhealthy food options than healthy food options, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Their study counted unhealthy options like fast food restaurants and liquor stores selling junk food and compared them to healthy options like grocery stores and farmers markets. We did better than Sacramento, with 5.66 times more unhealthy options, but worse than Santa Cruz with 1.84.

How does our class's map of our shopping choices relate to this fact about food access? Respond to these questions in the comments section:

  1. What do you notice when you look at the map overall?
  2. Are there more healthy or unhealthy food locations, or are they about the same? Near school? Near your house?
  3. How far do you have to travel from home to buy food? How many blocks?
  4. What kinds of food can you most easily buy within walking distance of your house?
  5. Why do you think this is so?
  6. Do you think other parts of San Francisco look the same as our neighborhoods, or are they different? Why or why not?
  7. If you could change something about the food locations in our neighborhoods, what would you change?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Meet the Greens Interview!

Meet the Greens is a website with animated webisodes about two green kids (literally, plus they're environmentalists) who are trying to protect the planet. This week, the Greens (Izz and Dex) interviewed me and Walter, an Urban Sprouts 8th grader from Excelsior Middle School.

Check us out! Here Izz and Dex interview Walter and me, and Here I talk more about how we started Urban Sprouts.

The Greens also have some good tips about recycling, making worm bins, and trying to keep our ecological footprint as small as possible.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Join Us and Cultivate Healthy Schools!

Dear Friends,

What do you think is the most urgent issue we face today? Global warming, youth obesity, national security, unemployment, urban violence . . . a few that come to mind. Did you know that school gardens can make a real difference in all these areas?

It’s well known today one in four children in the US is overweight [1]; this number is one in three at Urban Sprouts’ partner schools [2]. Our children are facing serious health problems unseen in previous generations before the age of 50 [3]. Urban Sprouts has shown that youth engaged in growing their own food eat more fruits and vegetables and teach their peers and families how to eat healthier.

Now, the threat of global warming is real, and school gardens inspire youth to teach their families how to protect the planet by driving less, eating locally-grown food, and keeping recyclables and compostables out of landfills.

In our grandparents’ generation, several million school children contributed to the war effort by feeding our country from school gardens, in name of the US School Garden Army [4]. Perhaps it’s time our children do the same, to protect us from the soaring cost of the oil that produces our industrial food crops and transports them to our door.

For all these reasons, Urban Sprouts helps urban youth to grow fresh, healthy organic food right at their own schools. By nurturing living plants, and by harvesting and eating fresh fruits and vegetables, youth are nourishing their bodies and cultivating a commitment to healthy living and a healthy environment.

This is why I’m inviting you, right now, to CLICK HERE and give a gift of $35, $50 or $100. Your support for Urban Sprouts will make a meaningful difference.

First of all, I want to tell you why school gardens are so meaningful to me. School gardens can completely change the way youth feel at school. Writers like Richard Louv wake us up to the reality that teachers have described for so long: youth suffer psychologically from their disconnection to nature.

Every year we interview teachers at our partner schools to get their feedback. A counselor from Luther Burbank Middle School told us:
This urban setting is dangerous and painful to live and work in. We live with regular shootings and unresolved murders. Behavioral problems, violence, depression and discouragement in youth come from the volatile urban setting, a result of living in an asphalt jungle that is disconnected from nature.
But school gardens can transform the urban environment. Two teachers from Excelsior Middle School told us:
The school garden is safe, an oasis of sanity from the painful experiences of the asphalt jungle. It’s a place where youth and adults can reconnect with the earth and nature even in the city environment. School gardens mitigate the cold city climate and change the physical environment of the urban school surroundings from looking like a prison yard, instead making it attractive, hospitable, inviting and cleaner.

If students don’t experience nature, they become their worst selves. It is very sad to see. In the garden, they smile and enjoy being a kid. We want our youth to leave here feeling confident. They are so vulnerable to other forces. In the garden, students laugh and run around, do work, use their adult strength, enjoy, and eat from the garden.
A counselor from Martin Luther King Middle School declared:
Just walking through the garden lowers a student’s blood pressure. Their whole attitude changes. It’s therapeutic and calming. Students who work in the garden improve their self-esteem, work better with others, become a better person, and show less anger and violence. The garden increases our sense of school community, identity and culture.
A six-year-old child, visiting the Life Lab learning garden in Santa Cruz recently, was quoted as saying: “This has been the best day of my life so far.”

This is why I’m writing to you today to ask for your help. I want to offer you the chance to join the Urban Sprouts community yourself, as a donor and supporter.

CLICK HERE to support Urban Sprouts today, and help us give youth a safe and natural environment that nurtures their bodies, minds and spirits.

Let me tell you a little more about us. Urban Sprouts was founded in 2003 by a group of teachers and volunteers at one middle school who wanted to make a difference. Since then, over 1,000 youth have worked, played and explored in our gardens. We’ve expanded to reach over 550 youth each year at four more public schools: June Jordan School for Equity, Ida B. Wells Continuation High School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, and Aptos Middle School.

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.

Urban Sprouts’ garden-based education does so much more than improve youth health and nutrition. Our four areas of impact are:
  • Health & Nutrition
  • Ecoliteracy & Eco-Actions
  • Academic Performance
  • Youth Development
Urban Sprouts supports urban schools in these four ways:
  • Garden-based Science classes: Students experience hands-on lessons in environmental science and nutrition, garden work projects, and cooking, led by Urban Sprouts’ Garden Educators together with classroom teachers and volunteers.
  • Food System Connections: Urban Sprouts students in after-school and elective classes analyze where their food comes from and why access to many fresh and healthy foods is limited.
  • Garden Grub Family Program: Our new garden-based workshops for families! This year, we invite students’ families to the school garden to cook, garden, and make sure their children have access to healthy food at home, at school, and in the neighborhood.
  • Summer Program: We invite 20 youth each summer for two weeks of intensive gardening, cooking, eating and organizing to make changes in their communities, at San Francisco’s Garden for the Environment. Youth prepare a healthy lunch every day, and learn to eat better and protect the environment at home, too.
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 San Francisco youth and our communities, and you get to be a part of the crucial and fast-growing movement to cultivate school gardens!

Please join us by making a donation today! Click HERE to make a secure credit card donation online, or click on the "Donate Now" button at the top right of our blog.

Thank you very much.


Abby R. Jaramillo
Executive Director

P.S. There are more ways to join Urban Sprouts! To learn about volunteer opportunities, click HERE.

1. UC Davis News, 2/6/02, NewsWatch: Obesity,
2. California Department of Education, DataQuest,, retrieved 10/19/07
3. Dr. Dennis Styne, Pediatric Endocrinologist, UC Davis Medical Center, presentation, 4/4/07
4. Rose Hayden-Smith, “Soldiers of the Soil: A Historical Review of the United States School Garden Army,” Winter 2006, University of California, Center for Youth Development.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Field Trip to Portland, OR

A few weeks back I visited Michelle Ratcliffe, Urban Sprouts’ co-founder, at her home in Oregon. Michelle is an inspiring crusader in the world of school gardens, farm to school, and family farm life! She showed me around her world in and outside of Portland.

First stop, straight from the airport, she whisked me away to the Learning Garden Laboratory, a project of Portland State University. Students from local public schools visit this urban farm and even have their own garden plots they care for throughout the year. In one very inspiring project, the garden offers paid internships for students’ adult family members. The family members cultivate a garden plot using traditional methods from their home countries in order to share their techniques with others. Family gardeners from Africa and the Caribbean had sown crops like hibiscus, okra, and squash, not in straight rows, but in curvy beds that spelled out the word L-O-V-E.

Next stop, we visited Jean's Farm, an urban farm tucked away in a residential Portland neighborhood. We turned from the city street down a dark, green tunnel of trees, only a small circle of light at its end. We emerged into a lush farm, surrounded by trees, with beds of diverse crops, a cooking area, and a cob oven!

Michelle also showed me around her rural life – living with her husband and baby on farm land about 20 mins outside Portland – and her urban life – working at Ecotrust in Portland’s hip and fun Pearl District. In her position as Farm-to-School Manager for Ecotrust, Michelle has been working to pass state legislation supporting school gardens and farm-to-school throughout Oregon. They’ve won lots of support, especially from the state Department of Agriculture. Also, she’s the Western Region contact for the National Farm-to-School network, so if you need support she’s a great resource!

For more photos from my trip, click here!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Urban Sprouts Has FUN!

Britt Bravo of Have Fun * Do Good is hosting a Blog Carnival called How Does Your Nonprofit Have Fun and Do Good? Here are my responses to her theme!

Two ways that Urban Sprouts (a school garden nonprofit) has fun: by collaborating with these projects.

1. Meet the Greens. This is a website (with "webisodes" and a blog) about two middle school kids who are green. Literally. They have green skin and teach kids and adults how to take care of our environment. (OK, they're cartoon characters. But they seem really real!) What's really fun, is that they interview real kids about how they're working to protect the environment. Izz and Dex, the green kids, recently interviewed me and Walter, a middle school student from Urban Sprouts, so our interview should be published soon! Check back later in October.

2. Trash Mash-Up. This local SF group helps kids make costumes and other really fun stuff out of trash! Our summer program kids made garden decorations (that also function as scarecrows/bird repellers) out of old CDs and cool masks out of old soy milk containers. Here we are wearing our masks!

We at Urban Sprouts try to keep ourselves, the "grown-ups" having fun as much as possible, too. The youth always keep us laughing--usually something to do with eating worms or salting snails. Our work really is fun--besides the youth, working in the garden, eating tasty food, and enjoying nature make us feel good. We love what we do! We take time to enjoy these things ourselves, by taking staff field trips to visit farms or other beautiful places that re-energize and inspire us. Some of our favorite spots are: UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden and Life Lab, Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, and Hidden Villa.

To do good and have fun, you have to take time to enjoy yourself. For me, working with people I really care about and taking a moment to enjoy the garden in the peaceful early morning hours, before the school bell rings and the rush begins, is really the essence of fun.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Better Nutrition, Better Thinking!

The SF Examiner reports- San Francisco's Mayor Newsom, is supporting better nutrition options at schools with a $500,000 grant to the SFUSD Student Nutrition Services (SNS). What will be done with the money? SNS is planning to install salad bars at 25 SF schools this year, including three schools with Urban Sprouts gardens: June Jordan School for Equity, Excelsior Middle School and Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. We hope it comes true. Our students have been organizing Salad Days to feature fresh salads with lunch for the past four years. Students have clearly demonstrated that they love fresh seasonal food. Urban Sprouts is looking forward to supporting the success of the salad bars at our schools sites.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Turn it off and go out and garden.

During the Urban Sprouts summer program with Garden for the Environment we did a great taste test where youth rated various qualities of corn based foods. It was AMAZING to watch their assessment. The highest scoring item out of a selection of fresh steamed corn on the cob, canned corn, corn chips, corn tortillas and a Coca Cola brand soda was...are you ready for this?...fresh corn on the cob. However, one the most fascinating aspects of the rating was that a bottle of Coca Cola brand soda rated the highest of all five for how appealing it appeared. This raised big questions for me. Are kids and youth relating the quality of food to its corporate branding? Are their food preferences in part a fabrication of marketing culture?

Pediatricians at Standford University have asked this very question. Which leads me to the New York Times piece,
If It Says McDonald’s, Then It Must Be Good an article on the findings from this research. Stanford researchers held taste tests with 63 children ages 3-5, kids were served equally prepared food items, including baby carrots. A portion of each item was served in McDonald's branded packaging and in white nonbranded packaging. Results for the carrots showed 54 percent of the kids preferred carrots in branded packaging and 23 percent preferred the unbranded, the remaining 23 percent thought they tasted the same. Another remarkable find of the researchers was that, "the more television sets in the house, the more likely a child was to prefer McDonald’s branded food." The article ends with a great quote from one of the lead pediatricians of the study, Dr. Thomas N. Robinson, 'We often hear that parents are the ones responsible for their kids’ nutrition but in reality there are these other factors, created by a tremendous amount of advertising effort, that undermine parents’ ability to make healthy choices.'

Advertisers may work against parents at times, but then where are kids being exposed to the greatest number of advertisements? Parents and families can do as the champion mother is doing in the Champions for Change campaign and pick up the remote control, turn the television off and garden with their kids to create their own culture and respect for fresh healthy food.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Food Battle!

Our friends over at Free Range Studios just came out with a new movie about the Farm Bill in which an Apple battles a Snack Cake! Watch it here!

Read the "Farm Bill Quick Facts," to learn how the current Farm Bill negatively affects Nutrition, the Environment, Hunger, Justice, and our Tax Dollars!

Or click here to Take Action and tell Congress what you think of the Farm Bill.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Complete Meal Equation

Writer and longtime local food advocate, James E. McWilliams recently provided a counter point to the local food philosophy, in the New York Times op-ed "Food That Travels Well." Spurred by a New Zealand study, McWilliams calls into question whether reducing food miles is better for the environment. We are asked to consider the full equation of the food system, such as planting, fertilization, and harvesting techniques as well as storage, and packaging, when calculating the environmental cost of food production, not just the fossil fuel consumed and emissions from transport.

McWilliams’ demonstrates a grounding point. Holding an extreme position on eating locally can be counter productive to ensuring a sustainable and healthy food culture. McWilliams article promotes an ecological "harm reduction" model. But even with harm reduction, the overall goal to ultimately stop the destructive behavior by making the problem manageable. While it may not be possible to grow local produce for Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert, there are still ways to provide food to the city that can reduce ecological harm.

McWillams' illustrates this point by looking to the example of raising grass fed livestock versus livestock raised on feed, a more costly and damaging practice. It is a valuable point that McWilliams' makes. We need to know where our food is coming from and the practices of the farmers producing our food. We need to be familiar with our communities food system. This is the same message coming from authors such Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. As McWilliams wisely points out, wherever you are, you need to know your geographical advantages. In the San Francisco Bay Area the advantages are great. We have little excuse for not supporting our local farmers and ranchers.

I do believe however that McWilliams’ statement "...consumers living in developed nations will...always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer" is a bogus one. This is where perhaps my thinking is less flexible. I think that if consumers realize there is true harm inherent in their behavior they will no more demand out of season long traveled food than they would demand that we continue to spray DDT because it allows them certain fruit. The question for me is, how much harm has to occur before we are willing to make changes?

So I say please do continue to consider food miles but also consider the feasible changes that can be made in the food system of your own your own home.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Garden Planning at Ida B. Wells' Summer School

This past month, I worked with 30 summer school students at Ida B. Wells Continuation HS on a project to redesign and improve our garden. First we completed a mapping exercise, observing and plotting existing vegetation and garden features. Next, each student created a design of their "dream garden"; we encouraged them to be creative and envision what they could put in the garden that would contribute to the school. Many of the students added areas to sit and relax in the garden, which are sorely needed! Other features common to many of the designs were ponds and fruit trees. One very creative student wanted to put an outdoor seating area with a stage for the graduation ceremony! A couple of their plans:

We also went on a field trip to Garden for the Environment, so that students could see a well-established community garden and choose plants that they like. GFE was a big hit and gave us lots of ideas for how we can improve the school garden in the future. A few of the students were obsessed with the lamb's ear plants!

In our last week, we got dirty working in the garden and put in some improvements! We cleared out an unused slope adjacent to the vegetable beds, built a retaining wall out of recycled concrete and created a small habitat garden of perennials and California natives. We also planted some shade tolerant plants in another area of the garden, and painted garden signs for our vegetable crops!

Here is a photo of the habitat area we put in:

Friday, July 20, 2007

Summer Program Last Day Party!

The last day of the Summer Program we hosted our most successful Garden Party yet! Youth participants in the program invited their families, friends and teachers to visit the Garden for the Environment and see all the amazing work the youth have done!! More than 75% of youth brought family to the garden - this is HUGE, compared to the less than 10% turnout we usually get for our garden parties during the school year. Teachers from MLK Middle School and June Jordan attended, as did Ross Mirkarimi, District 5 Supervisor.

What incredible work did the youth showcase at the Garden Party? Well, the youth taught us about . . .

Soil Health: John and Julius showed parents how to save seeds from native plants at the GFE and to sow them in window boxes and home gardens. John gathered the seeds from the garden himself - he learned how to identify mature seed pods ready to be harvested!

Families took home seeds to grow swiss chard, native Hooker's Evening Primrose, and Foxgloves. You can buy window boxes like the ones we used at your local Cole Hardware, or make them from scrap wood like old dresser drawers!

Eating Healthy at Home: Muawattia, Andre, Delvin and Suzi harvested and prepared veggie stir-fry with rice for everyone, and served it up hot! Everyone enjoyed those fresh and healthy greens.

This group also made a poster listing these ways we can all make healthier choices:
  • Exercise and eat healthy including: bananas, strawberries, greens, apples, sweet peas, collard greens
  • Choose whole food over processed food. Why? Because you will know what is in your food that can help you and not kill you slowly.
  • Replace sweets with another kind of healthy food.
  • Check Food Labels before you buy foods.
  • You should have no more than 48 grams or 12 teaspoons of sugar in one day.
Where Our Food Comes From: Ellie, Walter, Angel and their group compared the environmental impact of a locally grown orange to the impact of buying orange juice grown in Florida or Brazil, which is shipped, processed and shipped again, using petroleum resources all the way.

They calculated that a local orange grown in Fresno travels 187.55 miles to you, while orange juice travels from 2,948 to 10,000 miles, depending if it is grown in Florida or Brazil.

The group gave us this statistic, from the CA Center for Public Health Advocacy, and they introduced us to the San Francisco Local Foods Wheel, a beautiful tool that tells you what locally-grown foods you can buy here and when they are in season.

Zero Waste: Last but certainly not least, Oscar, Alex, Ahmed and Kochise taught all the visitors how to divert waste from the landfill by recycling at home! They gave out green kitchen pails and the phone numbers to call to get your green bin and blue bin set up at home, so the City can collect your recyclables and compostables. Even more exciting, they gave out home worm bins and taught families how to compost food scraps without the waste even leaving home.

We ventured into the GFE's deep, dark worm bin to dig some fat, shiny red wrigglers for the visitors to take home. We even saw a couple of mating pairs!!

The youth did such an AMAZING job teaching their families all about the garden. They gave tours, showed off the beds they planted, tasted, smelled and touched the now familiar plants with their younger siblings, and had fun in this beautiful green outdoor space.

A HUGE Thank You to all the youth and their families who participated in the Summer Program and our Last Day Garden Party. Thanks a MILLION to the wonderful youth staff (Claire, Ellie, Julius, Oscar and Antoine) who made it happen!!

We at Urban Sprouts are SO VERY appreciative of our partnership with the Garden for the Environment and the opportunity to work with Suzi and Blair! Thank you!!

For more photos of the Summer Program, click here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer Program . . . at Work!

Youth in the Urban Sprouts & GFE Summer Program not only enjoyed the garden, learned, cooked, played and had fun, but they also worked hard!! Physical work can be so rewarding and makes your body feel strong and healthy. Here are some great photos of summer program youth hard at work in the garden!

Weeding & clearing:Preparing the Compost:
Sowing seeds:
And . . . Relaxing!