Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Blog

Thanks so much for your interest in the Washington Youth Garden. Keep up to date with our latest adventures at our new blog: washingtonyouthgardenblog.org. There you'll continue to find photos, events, program updates and more!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Long live the queen!

Look closely at the photo above and you can see our queen: she's the one with the spot of light green on her back in the midst of a swirl of activity. Last Tuesday afternoon was an exciting time to be in the garden. After some high winds compromised the hive's integrity this winter, there were some lingering fears that the queen may not have survived the upset.

Slowly examining the hive, WYG beekeeper Toni Burnham gradually revealed clues of "queen rightness." Everyone was optimistic, but there was nothing quite like seeing her majesty in the flesh, lowering her large rear end into empty cells while her handmaidens hustled busily about her. We even witnessed the early moments of a brand new member of the hive, slowly breaking out of her cell, emerging into the world on gorgeous spring day.

Above: Toni cleans up the hive, scrapping off the food she had put in the hive to help them make it through the end of water.

Above: Kacie steps in to lend a hand with the spring cleaning.

Below: Winter's a tough time to be a bee. Fortunately, Chris constructed a brace to help protect the hive against future weather-related catastrophes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WYG Featured In "A Community of Gardeners" Documentary

The new documentary “A Community of Gardeners,” from local filmmaker Cintia Cabib, will premiere next week at the Environmental Film Festival. The film explores the vital role of seven community gardens in Washington, D.C. and shows how these green spaces are changing people's lives, their communities and their environment. Among the gardens featured in the film is the Washington Youth Garden!

The documentary will premiere Thursday March 24th, 7pm, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Following the March 24th premiere, Washington Youth Garden Program Director Kaifa Anderson-Hall will be participating in a discussion with the filmmaker Cintia Cabib as she discusses the 40 year history of the Washington Youth Garden in the DC community. The film will be screened again at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) on March 25th, at 4pm. Do plan to join us as we celebrate the community spirit of gardening.

For ticket information and for reservations click here.

To view the trailer and learn more about the film visit http://www.communityofgardeners.com/

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Enjoying the fruits (and stems, leaves, seeds, roots, and flowers) of their labors

“Wait! I need my recipe!”

The third graders from Center City Trinidad have cleaned up their desks and are being ushered off to their next class, but Makayla makes sure that our root-stem-leaf-flower-and-seed stir-fry recipe will go home with her. Our last Garden Science classroom day culminated with the ultimate gift that plants give us: their nutritious tastiness. Each cluster was given a baggie filled with vegetables and were asked to name the veggie, identify what part of the plant it represents, and its function in the plant's life.

I could not have been a prouder volunteer when even those who had participated the least in our eight weeks stood in front of the class and proudly, loudly presented their vegetable. The palpable enthusiasm in the classroom on our last day is what I had hoped for. I was thrilled with having helped them make the connection between plants and their lives, but wistful to see how they'd carry that lesson on. I'll be back next year!

Contributed by Olivia Ellis, one of the many dedicated volunteers that makes Garden Science possible.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Growing gardeners

Between long weekends, critters and technical difficulties, life for plants has been difficult at several of our Garden Science classes. The plants in our E.W. Stokes Spanish class, however, are looking great!

The third and fourth graders in all our classes are also continuing to take care of their resident decomposers.

Our classes at Burroughs are a week behind due to snow. Last week they made applesauce and traced their favorite meals back to the soil.

Stay tuned to learn more about our plant parts stir-fry extravaganza. After stepping out of the class to go wash her hands, one student reported back: "We filled the halls with jealousy because we're eating healthy and it also tastes good!"

Yoga for Gardeners

Head to Takoma Park on Saturday to show your support for the WYG at this garden-themed yoga workshop:

Yoga for Gardeners
Saturday, March 19, 2-4:30 p.m.
Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $35

Learn optimal alignment for digging in the dirt, while nurturing yourself and enjoying the community of your fellow yogi gardeners. For beginner and more experienced yogis and gardeners alike, find ways to optimize your experience in the garden and on the mat with therapeutic applications of the Anusara principles of alignment. Elizabeth will donate a portion of the profits to benefit the Washington Youth Garden and will host a seed swap at the end of the workshop! Everybody welcome. To register or get information about Willow Street, please visit: www.willowstreetyoga.com.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Did dirt make your lunch?

In this week’s Garden Science classes we turned our gaze from the insects that make plant life possible, to one of the most important (and delicious) reasons we garden—to grow food!
Together we began to explore the all-important question of where our food comes from. We started off by breaking down a common and favorite meal, a cheeseburger, into its five basic ingredients: bun, tomato, lettuce, meat and cheese. Then we traced each of these ingredients back to its earliest beginnings. The pattern? All of these ingredients could be tracked back to the soil.

By contrast we considered the case of the Stawberry Pop-Tarts—purportedly “Baked with Real Fruit!” How many ingredients in a Pop Tart? Our third and fourth graders tried to guess:
“Nope….Forty-seven ingredients!”

The clincher: “Do you think all of these 47 ingredients came from the soil?”
“Do you think R­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­iboflavin or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate came from the soil?"

Our digestible message about nutrition: If you can’t trace back your food to the soil, it’s probably not that healthy. Pretty pictures of strawberries on the front of a shiny box do not mean there will be healthy strawberries inside. (Dried strawberries can be found in the “two percent or less” category, right after salt.)

To bring our lesson to life, we equipped each young chef with a plastic knife, cutting board and apple slice so they could help the class make a pot of fresh applesauce. Unlike the grocery store apple sauce that might have upwards of thirty-two ingredients, homemade applesauce can be made with only five or six.

While the applesauce simmered into sweet, cinnamony goodness (with the help of some volunteer elbow grease), each student drew a picture of their favorite foods and practiced tracing each ingredient back to the soil. In some classes our students had remarkably sophisticated taste—drawing pictures of lentil burgers and sushi. In other classes students were still putting together the idea that chicken (the food) came from chicken (the animal) and that eggs come from inside the bodies of the aforementioned creature.

Regardless of their prior food exposure, young applesauce enthusiasts in all of our schools requested the recipe (before we had a chance to pass it out) and told us they planned to make this tasty treat at home.

Perhaps our most transcendent comment of the week came on Tuesday afternoon at Mary Becloud Bethune Elementary. From across the room a rambunctious third grader declared, “This tastes so good I feel like God is speaking to me!”

I think we can all agree that no lecture or lesson plan will ever compare to the transformation that happens during moments of sheer pleasure that only real foods know how deliver.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Class: Insecta!

"Raise your hand if you’ve ever stepped on a bug and heard it go CRUNCH.”
All twenty five hands rocket towards the ceiling.

“That’s their exoskeleton. All arthropods have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. ‘Exo’ means outside.”

This week our Garden Science classes built on what they already knew about bees to learn about the common characteristics of insects. Unlike other arthropods (including insect "cousins" crustaceans, arachnids and centipedes and millipedes), insects all have antennae, wings, six legs, and three main body segments. Our classes were amazed to find out that ants can have wings and insects breathe through slits in their abdomens. The highlight of the classes were definitely our insect cases—extensive collections of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bees, wasps, hornets, beetles, earwigs, flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers and crickets. In some classes, students went back to their desks to fetch notebooks so they could write down their observations. One fourth grader complained that she hadn’t had enough time to complete her research!

After looking at the insect cases, the classes learned basic insect anatomy and the vital roles insects play in living systems. They will have a chance to continue their investigations during their class field trip in May: we’ll build on this lesson in the garden, observing insects live and in action.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rooting DC 2011

Last Saturday, WYG staff and volunteers joined local urban garden enthusiasts at Coolidge HS for DC Field to Fork’s 4th annual urban gardening forum, Rooting DC. We started off the day with some guerrilla gardening, getting DC youth prepared with seed balls packed with wild flower seeds to beautify the city. Seed balls are fun and easy to make by combining nutrient-rich compost with clay and seeds. When the balls dry and the weather warms up, these nuggets of mini-garden potential will be ready to go!

Kacie, Chris and Kaifa all contributed to panels on youth gardening. Kacie and Chris kicked it off, collaborating with City Blossoms staff to give some useful “tips of the trade.” Chris went over the top 10 plants for gardening with youth and Kacie discussed the value of meeting children where they’re at and asking questions to support their natural curiosity. Kaifa presented on the successes and challenges of the WYG school garden installations as part of a panel examining school garden case studies in DC. Along with other panelists, Kaifa discussed the essential steps to establishing and maintaining effective school and community partnerships.

Finally, the info fair was a great opportunity to tell folks about the Washington Youth Garden, connect with potential volunteers, and get the word out about upcoming WYG programs including SPROUTS and Growing Food…Growing Together. Both programs are still accepting applications, so if you know of any school groups or families who may be interested, please pass the word.

Worms, flowers and bees, oh my!

Over the past two weeks in our Garden Science classes we’ve been learning about the birds and the bees (and the worms) that make plant life possible.

We kicked off our fourth week with an in-depth introduction to the newest members of the classroom—the worms! Before passing out a worm to each student, we had to review what sort of living conditions the worms were used to in their homes underground. Because the soil is moist, we decided to have a damp paper towel on our desks to keep our worms happy. Also, because worms are used to how QUIET it is underground, we agreed that we should only whisper to our neighbors (and not screech with excitement) about our observations. EW Stokes’ fourth grade class, at least, were very serious about not upsetting their worms and consistently shushed their classmates during our worm observation period.

After 10 minutes to touch and observe the worms, the classes came together to share their observations and learn worm anatomy. We reviewed the important role worms play in the garden—breaking down scraps of food (organic matter) into nutrients that the plants can use to grow.

Every week a group of students will be responsible for feeding the worms. The worm bins will stay in the classrooms through the spring, providing compost for the school gardens. When the classes come out to visit the Washington Youth Garden in May, the worms will finally return home from their extended field trip.

Last week, we shifted our focus from decomposers to pollinators. Before jumping into the details of flower parts, we reviewed the plant life-cycle and how plants go about making new plants. We learned that in order for the new seed (hidden in the flower) to be ready to make a new plant, it has to be pollinated. This is where trusted pollinator friends (bees, butterflies, bats, flies, etc.) come into play. Only once the pollen goes down to meet the new seed, will the plant get the signal to make a fruit. Most students had no idea that fruits are just a clever way for plants to spread their seeds. Kacie broke it to the students that every time we eat a watermelon and spit out the seeds we are participating in a very tasty trick! To learn more about the process of pollination, students dissected lily flowers and learned all about bees from Toni, the WYG beekeeper. Before closing the lesson, we all said a big “Thank you!” to the bees who pollinate one out of every three bites of food we eat.

Thank you worms! Thank you bees!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seeding projects

Last week we finally got to plant some seeds. We went into each classroom and set up the shelves that hold all of the grow racks, worm bins, planting trays, and, soon enough, all of the little seedlings.
Each class planted broccoli, lettuce mix, sunflowers, and basil. All of the students had a great time getting their hands in the soil and learning all about what plants we'll be growing.
We also brought out some samples so that everyone could try what we'd be growing. All of the students loved the sunflowers seeds and most came around to liking the lettuce and broccoli. Despite the basil pesto being something new for most students, after one friend tried it and admitted to liking it, so did everyone else. Once they heard that basil is used in spaghetti and on pizza, they were a little more into the idea of eating it.

First we gotta talk about what plants need to grow. A place to grow, some liquid (water) and love, air (carbon dioxide), nutrients, the right temperature, and sunlight.
Here some students at Mary McLeod Bethune are getting their hands in the dirt and planting those seeds.
At Center City, the students are psyched about getting their peat pots onto the shelf and under the grow rack.
Amirah and Myia planting basil.
The lettuce team with Ms. Olivia.
Students on the left side of the table clearly enthralled by amazing facts about broccoli from Mr. Zack.
Ms. Kacie demonstrating the amount of arable land on earth using an apple. Students are always amazed by how small a portion of the planet is suitable for growing plants.
Giving you a peak into composting and worm week with students peaking into a worm bin. Each class gets one of these and a tupperwear container to store food for the worms.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

week two: life of a plant

Though the snow tried to stop us, we carried on with (some of) our Garden Science classes. This week, we learned about seeds and the life cycle of a plant.
Here, we take apart bean seeds to identify the parts of a seed:

And here, showing our plant life cycle drawings (with a giggle):

Thursday, January 20, 2011

And it begins

This week marked the first of our eight weeks of Garden Science, our annual winter program with local elementary schools. We conduct a ninety minute lesson in six classes every week on garden and environmental science.

This week, we started off with "What's the Big Deal About Plants?", which gets us thinking about plants that we depend on in our everyday lives. Below is a picture of letters that we write to our plant best friend telling them why they're appreciated and what we can do to be a good friend to them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

WYG in Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Adrian Higgins spoke with WYG staff about the realities of starting gardens at schools in DC. Higgins also featured the garden at Center City Public Charter School, one of our Garden Science partners. We installed the garden at Center City last spring and will be returning to teach Garden Science at the school this year.