Wednesday, November 25, 2009

fall in the garden

View of the garden with our new hand-made wooden benches and tables, whose future home is in our Nature Explore Classroom.

Our Growing Food...Growing Together program participants come back to the garden to harvest greens.

Bok choy

Area of the greens: spinach, kale, lettuce mixes, bok choy, mesculin, endive.

Every fall garden needs Greens Galore

The garlic is a-sproutin'

Garden Cleanup!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fifth annual Dig In Your Heels 5K a soggy success!

On Sunday, November 1st, over 600 runners participated in the Washington Youth Garden's annual 5K run around the beautiful grounds of the U.S. National Arboretum.

The race was organized with support from Girls on the Run DC , a non-profit organization that inspires young girls to be active and be positive. This year's Dig In will prove to be especially memorable thanks to the presence of all these shining girls, many of whom completed a 5K for the first time.
Thanks to all the runners, walkers, and volunteers who came out despite the damp conditions, and thanks to all participants, whose support will benefit programming at the Washington Youth Garden.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Seed to Supper campers descend on the White House!

If you think the lovely girls who grace the top of this blog page are excited about the carrots they are holding, imagine just how big those smiles were when they found out that we were going to take a trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to see the newest garden in town. On a crisp Friday morning in October, WYG staff and twenty young gardeners from our Seed to Supper summer program boarded a school bus and crossed the city quadrants on our way to the White House. Even though all twenty of our children on board are DC residents, none of them had been inside the White House gates before.
As burgeoning gardeners, they were anxious to see what was growing in Mrs. Obama's fall garden, as well as to judge the size of her vegetables in comparison to the vegetables grown by their own hands in the Youth Garden this past summer (above picture: the Obama carrots - hard to declare a winner when one contestant is still in the ground).

Once we were lined up at the South Gate, one of Mrs. Obama's staffers, as well as two White House chefs, came out to greet us. After a few Secret Service guys joined our party, we were allowed to enter the gates.
On our way out to the First Lady's garden, we first passed through some of the formal gardens closer to the building. The children commented on and recognized how beautifully kept these traditionally-styled gardens are (whispers of "are those flowers over there real?"). We of course stopped to take our photo with this surreal backdrop behind us, as well as to bask in the envious stares of those tourists who were staring at us through the gates.
Before we got to the garden, we had the surprise pleasure of meeting the White House beekeepers, Adam and Charlie. Thanks to our summer visit from DC bee-vangelist Toni Burnham, who brings her bees out to the youth garden for our children and families every summer, the children were able to tell Adam and Charlie a thing or two about bees. We even hope to have a beehive at the youth garden by next summer, so maybe Adam and Charlie will come visit us next time around (wink, wink). After we all chatted it up about the important role of pollinators in food production, Adam and Charlie took apart a beehive (don't worry, it was empty!) to show us the different parts inside.
They also shared interesting facts about honey bees, like that it takes the equivalent of nine trips to the moon to make one tablespoon of honey! The White House bee hive was a bit tucked away in a little grove of young trees for protection, but situated close enough to the garden so that the bees wouldn't have to travel quite that far to get the ingredients for their honey.

Once we arrived at the First Lady's garden (it felt wrong, but we were allowed to walk across the grass!), White House chef Susie Morrison gave us a pop quiz. She said, since you guys have your own garden, you tell me what we have growing here. Well, the answer was, a lot!
The children identified broccoli, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, a few tomatoes still hanging on, turnips, kohlrabi, fennel, kale, spinach, lettuce, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, beans, and mint. We would have scored 100% except for the tricky kohlrabi, which we didn't plant in the youth garden this season.

There was one thing that was missing from this garden though: weeds! The children noticed how clean-cut this garden is, asking Susie, "don't you guys get weeds here or do you just really like weeding?" Susie answered that there was going to be a photo shoot of the garden the next day, so everything was freshly weeded and mulched.

One of our children noticed a big wooden box slightly hidden behind some trees and inquired if that might be the compost, a central part of every organic garden. Susie confirmed that yes, that was the compost, but could not confirm if the Obama family's (uncooked) dinner scraps ended up there.
We really applaud the First Lady's efforts to draw attention to the connection between our health and where our food comes from, which has an especially significant impact on our country's youth. We know from experience that if children grow it, they'll eat it! And a lot of the time, they won't even wipe the dirt off first! The White House has made the public call for school groups to come visit the First Lady's garden, so we hope that more schools and organizations take them up on the offer. It is truly a memorable experience for gardeners of all ages.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sweet Potatoes!

It's been a long time that we've been waiting to harvest our sweet potatoes. They require anywhere from 100 to 140 days to mature, depending upon their variety. Ours were somewhere in the middle. We were holding off until we had the perfect setting in which to harvest them and it was well worth it - our visiting SPROUT group from Tree of Life Public Charter School were besides themselves with excitement.

While all vegetables are exciting to harvest, there is something particularly magical to children about pulling unseen roots and tubers from their home in the dark, rich soil. Our viney sweet potatoes seemed like a jungle, which added another element of wonder.

The children learned about sweet potatoes (they are native to the Americas, while yams are native to Africa) and how nutritious they are (loaded with Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber). Then we set to work digging. Youth garden adult staff members used pitch forks to loosen up the soil, being careful not to puncture the sweet potatoes we couldn't see. Then the children spread out and dug around until they found the buried treasure, usually letting us know they have found something by way of a very loud but excited scream.

Since we let our sweet potatoes stay in the ground for a long time, some were as big as footballs. Most were a manageable size though. We gave the largest one to the children to take back and have in their classroom and will donate the rest to a local soup kitchen.


Hello, my name is Jonathon Gliss. I'm 17 years old and I am a student assistant at the Washington Youth Garden. During the summer I was the first Youth Intern at the Washington Youth Garden. I weeded, harvested, and helped with a lot of the garden projects, and even was the camp counselor for the children at The Seed to Supper Program. I had never had a job like this and didn't know what to expect.
I got involved with the Washington Youth Garden through an organization I was in called The Ports Town Youth Council. The Ports Town Youth Council, is an organization run by Rev. Gail Addison. PTYC members are children selected by their schools or community leaders to act as the voice of community youth in their homes, neighborhoods, schools, churches and civic organizations. We are partners with Kaiser Permanente and their Healthy Eating Active Living Initiative. So this summer we all had to find summer jobs that deal with our health. Since I wanted to get a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service management, I was chosen to work at the Washington Youth Garden.

The first day I got here I met Chris Turse (Garden Coordinator), and Kaifa Anderson-Hall (Program Director). On my first day I had weeded a whole section at the end of the garden. By the end of the day I was so sore. I was sure that this would be a long boring summer. But as the first week went by, things started to grow on me and I was loving the Garden. My second week I met the Seed to Supper kids. I instantly connected with a few kids. I taught them and they taught me. Teaching them about plants and vegetables was a joy. They would always have a question or clever comment and I think that's what made it so fun. Sometimes I think the children listen to me better than they did the adults. I also had the opportunity to work with Chef Carla Hall who was a contestant on Top Chef. She has supported the Seed to Supper program for four years. On my last day I got to do something I never thought I would do. I gave a cooking demonstration for the kids. It was so cool and they were so amazed. I made a vegetable medley. They loved it and kept asking for more.
The Washington Youth Garden helped me do something I always dreamed of doing. This has been the coolest job I ever had. I have decided to come back and work here part time until I graduate in May. This has changed my life for the best. I have done things that will help me and benefit me when I go off to college. So I would like to thank the Youth Garden for everything they have done for me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank You Washington Youth Garden Volunteers!

Yes, time has definitely flown by and sadly our two summer programs at the WYG have ended for the season. On the positive side, our volunteers are still hard at work! There is much to do to prepare the garden for fall and winter. We have been harvesting produce, weeding, mulching, cleaning up and clearing the garden, planting a small section of fall crops and flowers, and planting cover crops. On the right, WYG volunteer, EJ Truax, holds a beautiful bouquet of cut flowers in which she cut and arranged in less than 5 minutes. This sentence really sums Ms. Truax up, efficient and beautiful!

We would like to thank all of the volunteers that have helped the WYG this year in any capacity. We would not be able to deliver such a great program to our participants without each and every one of you!

Volunteer days at the WYG are on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9am-12pm. Saturday volunteer days will continue through September and Tuesday volunteer days will continue until it's too cold to hold a tool. If you are interested in volunteering please contact, garden coordinator, Christopher Turse, via email. His e-mail address is

WYG Volunteer, Greig Stewart, sits next to a bounty of veggies and enjoys a presentation on nutrition underneath our great, big willow oak.

WYG volunteer, Stephanie Mui, harvests pole beans with a smile. WELCOME BACK Stephanie!

'All hands' needed in the tomato patch...THE TOMATOES ARE FLYIN' OFF THE VINE!

Butternut Squash, Acorn Squash, Pumpkins, melons and watermelons galore!

These pumpkins below were harvested from the large vine that blocked the main entrance for most of the year. They were 'volunteer' pumpkins and we were very grateful that they decided to plant themselves. The melon beside the pumpkins was one of the sweetest melons that I have ever tasted, grown right here at the Washington Youth Garden!

It was a great season for root crops like these purple and orange carrots. We had a constant succession of carrots this season!

This picture was taken after many folks had already packed one or two bags full with produce to take home!
Below is one of our favorite butterflies, the Great Spangled Fritillary. Come on out and see if you can find one yourself!


Monday, August 31, 2009

where did August go?!

They say time flies when you are having fun, but geez, we can't believe how quickly these summer days have zoomed past. It's really hard to believe that it's already September and both of our summer programs have finished. The youth garden will be a much quieter place now that we won't have 25 children and a dozen DC families weeding, singing, harvesting, sharing, and getting dirty almost every day of the week.

However, we are still available for school groups visits throughout the fall. For more info, go to our website and read about our SPROUT (Science Program Reaching Out) program (

The last week of both of our summer programs focused around one of our favorite things to do and the best rewards intrinsic to gardening: eating! Below are some pictures of youth garden style cooking (fresh, colorful, full of garlic) and some other pictures from our last couple weeks of the Seed to Supper program.

Jonathan, our summer youth intern brought to us thanks to the Kaiser Permanente Foundation, helps a camper season with fresh herbs from the garden. Lucky for us that Jonathan was not only a great worker out in the garden, but is also enrolled in a culinary training program at his high school in Bladensburg, MD. Just look at how professional he looks in his chef jacket!

The run and scream: a game introduced to us by education intern Lindsay Sumner. It's literally just that: run and scream until your breath runs out. We enjoy the simple things here at the youth garden.

Besides running and screaming, we all really enjoyed singing together this summer. Michael Jackson songs were quite popular, but we also had a context-appropriate song about gardening that we sang every morning. The song of choice is "Garden Song" by Pete Seeger (inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, all we need is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground...). One of our dedicated volunteers, Becca, taught us all sign language to go along with the song as well. Our summer interns were also musically talented, so we brought out the guitar every morning too. Now if I could only get that song out of my head...

We are often blessed with the presence of Damali, Program Director Kaifa Anderson-Hall's daughter. Damali isn't the biggest fan of soil or bugs, but we're working on her.

Garden Coordinator Chris Turse gets in on the cooking. Chris sure does love his veggies.