All posts by Dottie Baumgarten

Managing School Vegetable Gardens: Who Gardens?

SC-thumbSchool vegetable gardens provide spectacular opportunity for children to explore nature. Nothing is more engaging than a worm crawling through the soil or a praying mantis clinging to a bean plant. Real time explorations reinforce where our food comes from, as well as classroom knowledge on soil, plants, animals, weather and seasons. The educational benefits are hands-on and myriad.

But there’s a balance that has to be established with a school garden. One teacher and a rotation of classes aren’t enough to maintain a successful vegetable garden. How much of the work is completed by the teacher and the students, and how much of the work is completed by other adults? Typically the teacher provides all the resources for the lesson, but with a garden, this model doesn’t work.

There are two schools where I’m supporting sustainable vegetable gardens. The preschool garden at House at Pooh Corner is small enough that an extra hour of work once a week within the context of my morning at the school is sufficient to manage the growing area. Teachers take charge of extra watering and harvesting during the week, and occasionally another adult stakes the tomatoes and sunflowers, or puts a new fence around the garden.

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At The Montessori School, the eight 4 x 4 square gardens, along with two 8 x 3 toddler gardens, are more than one teacher with rotating classes can manage. For the last couple of years, we have been experimenting with what works. I do most of the gardening with the students during the year. Additional adults help with summer gardening and with heavier work, such as building the fence or replacing the wood of the garden plots.

As the garden thrives and is used more directly within the classroom curricula, we concurrently need to strengthen adult help. There’s opportunity for school families to participate, benefiting the families as the school garden is supported. When families get involved, community connections are increased, parent and child experiences are nurtured, parent gardening skills are strengthened, community knowledge of growing local food increases, and the garden is available for classroom use.

Two enriching opportunities for families are an after school garden club, and summer family gardening. This fall parents and students gardened together. We had fun together, and with this weekly extra hour of help, gardening needs were met. We harvested herbs, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and we sifted school compost for nutritional use in the garden. Children were thrilled finding sow bugs, meal worms, grubs and spiders. As we continue to experiment with families gardening this coming spring, I hope this will lead to parents seeing the enjoyment and benefit of taking a week to water, weed and harvest in the summer.

School communities embracing a school sustainable vegetable garden is a win/win/win/win opportunity: children are exploring outside; parents are nurturing their connection with their child and their community while also being outside in a garden; during the summer, families get to take home produce they helped grow and the garden is supported, ready for fall harvest by the children in the new school year.

 

Sustainable Gardening at School

SC-thumbThe thrill of a sustainable vegetable garden at school is connecting children directly to the food they eat. As I write this, I’m mindful of the images of devastation from Typhoon Haiyan as it created havoc in the Philippines. We are in the midst of global climate change, and storms like this are becoming more and more common. A school vegetable garden can’t solve everything, but it can re-orient our children and ourselves to growing local, healthy food. This choice can reduce our carbon footprint.

There are three sustainable vegetable gardens in my life: House at Pooh Corner, The Montessori School, and our home garden. Each of these gardens includes at least one compost bin that provides nutrients for the growing flowers and vegetables. As I strive to lead the gardens at the two schools, I benefit from the garden expertise of my husband Phil. Among other things, Phil starts many of the vegetables that are planted at school.

School gardens teach the connection between growing food and our plate. Children experience the vegetables in their natural environment before they get washed, cut and prepared. Students can explore the whole process: seed, planting, growing, harvesting and eating. A bonus is collecting seeds this year to plant next year.

At House at Pooh Corner, a preschool, we focus on cherry tomatoes, radishes, green beans and lettuce. These are all vegetables that can be picked and eaten right away. You don’t even need to wash them (well, do wash the radishes). So the children’s experience is hand to mouth. Pick the lettuce, taste it. You’d be surprised at what a picky eater will try if they get to pick the vegetable from the plant. When there is abundance, make a salad or steam cook the green beans.

At The Montessori School, in addition to common vegetables, we also have an herb garden, and have had success with strawberries, potatoes, zucchini, zinnia flowers and peppers.

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In both schools, the children help with the compost bin. Children collect food waste from their own snacks or lunches, and add the food to the compost bin with a layer of greens (yard waste) and browns (dried leaves or shredded paper). Months later, the children help to sift the nutritious soil, putting large pieces of compost back in the bin, and adding the soft, sifted soil to the vegetable garden.

One of the joys of gardening is helping to figure out how to use the harvested food. Some uses are obvious: salad or eating raw green beans, radishes, tomatoes and peppers. Other uses educate and stretch children’s knowledge. Zucchini can be used in a recipe right away, or it can be shredded and frozen for making zucchini bread in the winter. This year at The Montessori School, we harvested an abundance of potatoes that were made into mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes.

The point of a sustainable garden is to connect children to the food that they eat. Planting, growing, harvesting, and eating create joy and wonder for a growing child. They won’t forget their experiences in the garden.

TTF Watershed Milestones Award

SC-thumbTookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership Inc (TTF) is charged with protecting and improving the quality of the water in our TTF watershed. The Second Annual Watershed Milestones Award Ceremony, held at  Philadelphia Water Department’s Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center  honored people, organizations, public agencies, and companies whose work improves the health of the TTF.

I’m thrilled to receive the Tookany-Tacony/Frankford (TTF) Watershed Association’s Watershed Educators Award for 2013. It is an honor to be working along with all of the others who are making a difference as we work to improve the health of our watershed.

Julie Slavet, Alix Howard, Dottie Baumgarten, State Representative Steve McCarter, PWD Commissioner Howard M. Neukrug
Julie Slavet, Alix Howard, Dottie Baumgarten, State Representative Steve McCarter, Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard M. Neukrug

The honorees  include Denise Eiler, Watershed Educator from the Baldi School; Abington School District, Roots to Re-Entry (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), and Abington Township Environmental Advisory Council as Friends of the TTF Watershed; Aliyah Patterson as TTF Youth Champion;  Cheltenham Township as TTF Watershed Municipal Leader; and The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia as Private Sector Steward. Working across Municipalities and Townships, we are making a difference!

TTF arranged for each honoree to receive a Pennsylvania House of Representative Citation from our Representative. State Representative Steve McCarter, a neighbor and friend, personally gave the Citations to those of us in his District.

State Representative Steve McCarter, Dottie Baumgarten
State Representative Steve McCarter, Dottie Baumgarten

Extracted from TTF:

TTF recognizes Dottie Baumgarten for her passion and dedication as a watershed educator committed to improving the health and vitality of our watershed. She worked closely with Cheltenham Township, the Partnership for Delaware Estuary, and TTF to create and develop the Clean Water Partners program to educate and engage businesses on stormwater management.

Dottie is not your average environmental educator with the Philadelphia Water Department. Through her firm, Sustainable Choices, she shares her enthusiasm and knowledge at events and programs from tours to conferences, across the region. An active member of the Cheltenham Environmental Advisory Council, Dottie founded the Friends of Grove Park in Glenside. She teaches sustainability and gardening . . . at House at Pooh Corner in Germantown. *

* The Montessori School in Dresher, PA is also part of the my work, where I teach Sustainable Science. It is in the Wissahickon Watershed.