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.


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.

2013 Delaware Estuary Science and Environmental Summit

SC-thumbSo I’m really a geek scientist at heart. For all the effort I put into teaching and creating the right scenario for reaching the public with accurate science, the heart and soul of my efforts are rooted in the hard science of my college chemistry days.

I was in heaven at Cape May, New Jersey earlier this week. Partnership For the Delaware Estuary feels like my home, and 2013 Delaware Estuary Science and Environmental Summit is my family reunion. Yeah, I may be that odd-ball educator of younger than college people, but I’m still family.

And what a reunion! You know that major problem of Hurricane Sandy? Well there are folks who are looking at how we as a society can respond. Don’t quote me on the details exactly. I’m going to get some exact names and organizations miss-stated. But between EPA, DEP PA, DEP NJ, Army Corps of Engineers, USGS, DNREC, Rutgers, PWD, UDEL, DRBC, and a dozen other private and public entities, this scientific community is striving to find and document the information on how things are going and recommend what we can do about it.

Flooding in Delaware? Someone is looking at whether it would cost more to society to let it go as nature dictates, fight it with tooth and nail (and fail), or to plan out and assist a stepwise retreat. You know what? It will cost society less if the powers that be put money into a planned retreat.

New discovery? There are fresh water mussels throughout the Delaware River system. If there is a gravel bed under two feet of water, scientists and volunteers are consistently finding colonies of mussels. This is HUGE news because the mussels are filter feeders, and they are and have been cleaning the river water. Cheer! Celebrate! Join a volunteer mussel survey in your local river so that the big guys can plan where to collect seed mussels. Then they can determine where the habitat is healthy for starting new mussel beds. In the big picture of polluted water, expanding mussels in the riverbeds will move our clean waterways up to the next level of health.

Communication? Scientists know how to communicate with each other but get a failing grade on communicating their information to the general public.

That’s my niche, found and identified. Put this science information in perspective, find the best message connected with an action, and help people change their behavior.

Help you change your behavior.

Change my behavior.

“The earth provides air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat and space for us to live in. Each of these areas is challenged, and we must change our behavior so that the earth can continue to provide for us.”

Catch you later. Maybe at my collaborative STEM/Sustainable Science class looking at stormwater on a school campus.