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Springtime Salad Party
by Califarmer on 

Springtime Salad Party

Living in Los Angeles we are very lucky weather wise. We are lucky that we are able to grow food year round. This is a lesson that we always teach in all of our school gardens, warm season and cool season. We love the bounty of the cool season:  lettuce, arugula, broccoli, radish, cauliflower, etc. Then we are lucky in the warm season to have tomatoes, pumpkins, eggplant, did I mention tomatoes?

Shortly after the students settle in at the beginning of the year we start our garden classes. In general we try to see every student once a month or once in a six week rotation depending on the school schedule. It is autumn so we start planting all the cool season crops with the students. We do most by seeds and if the plants don’t take because it is 90 degrees in November we drop in plant starts.

Over the course of the autumn and as we move into the winter the kids get to see the stuff grow. There are many lessons surrounding the garden, scavenger hunts for the really young kids to what we would grow if we were to live on Mars for the older kids. Then there are other lessons about nutrition, drought, California agriculture, and so on. So over time they see the changes in the garden. Most of the time very good and sometimes we get aphids and don’t let me get started on the gophers. Which will lead to a whole other lesson and then we talk about the changes in the garden.

Then spring comes and as one season ends it is the beginning of the next. So we have a celebration of all things cool season. We call it a “Salad Party.” At the beginning of the of class we have everyone sit down at the tables (we use table cloths when possible) and I ask if they know what Thanksgiving is. They all generally know and talk about their own experiences that they can relate to. I mention that the trees were red and some even without leaves.

“Do you remember when school started and the beds were empty and we planted all these new plants and seeds?” I say.

“Now look at the trees they are starting to turn green again. If we look at the garden beds they are all full. It is time to harvest and to enjoy all the things that we grew, kind of like Thanksgiving in March.”

We have prepared a bunch of things in advance:  wash buckets, salad spinners,harvesting baskets, olive oil, strawberries, citrus fruits and the list goes on. There are usually 4-5 kids that we call chefs are on salad dressing making duties. While our harvesters and farmers are going to pick the salad, wash, then prepare for the chefs. Each of our harvesters are given a small basket and instructed to go around the garden and pick 3-5 leaves. They carefully select lettuce, romaine, arugula, kale, and edible flowers. We wash it carefully not to squeeze the leaves but to turn them like they are giving them a bath. Then harvesters move the clean leaves to the salad spinners and spin away. We then put all the leaves in a big bowl and everyone gets a chance to tear the leaves and make them smaller. We call them “tearers”.

Meanwhile our chefs are making a  salad dressing out of blood oranges, lemons, garlic, salt, and a few other ingredients. They also cut up carrots and strawberries to make the salad complete. All the salad dressing goes into a big mason jar when everyone takes turn shaking the jar to mix up the tasty salad dressing.

The big bowl is returned to chefs who dress the salad and add in carrots and strawberries.

It is tossed with big wooden salad claws. Turning this beautiful salad with all the colors would make any 5 star restaurant chef extremely envious.

We have all the kids sit down at the covered tables or on the big bench under the big amber tree. We talk about how other cultures eat with their hands and how it is important to connect with our food. Then I am always reminded that chicken nuggets and pizza are eaten with their hands. Funny how I always forget that that. I like to tell them that in France before they eat they say: “Bon Appetit” which means enjoy your meal in French. I wish them Bon Appetit and then we eat.

There is nothing like seeing a bunch of students eating salad that they prepared. There are some students that don’t like it. Some only like the strawberries. We always encourage everyone to try at least a bite because maybe they will like it. There are often comments like “I don’t like carrots but I am eating them anyway!” or “This is the best salad I have ever eaten and I don’t like salad!” There are many that sit and talk while they eat just enjoying the moment. There are often moments of joy that are so hard to explain. It is almost a feeling that I might just burst from all the goodness.

In the end we have to go back to class and prepare for the next class to come in and we start the process all over again. All of the salad that is not eaten gets fed to the worms in our vermicomposting bins called “Worm Acres - The Hotel for Worms” It is a stacking system. We find that the worms on the first floor are the happiest.

I am very fortunate that I get to experience such joy on a daily basis. It is a joy to see children growing food and enjoying the outdoors.

Andy Vaughan


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School & Seed Catalogs
by CaliFarmer on 

School & Seed Catalogs

Ordering seeds from a catalog is something that most of us gardeners are pretty accustomed to. There is such a joy in mid-winter when you go to the post box and they are rolling in daily for about a month. So awesome to see a seed catalog amongst all the grocery store ads and unwanted credit card applications. Often referred to as seed porn, without the plain brown wrapping. The urban farmer in me loves this time of year, leafing through catalogs looking at all the “new items for 2015” and making a choice for the 15 tomato varieties that we will grow this year for our clients. A magenta picotee double cosmos? I am all in for 5 packets.

As a school garden educator, we are often looking for things to challenge our students as well as challenging ourselves to knock our game a notch. For the most part children are exposed to the food they eat by what they see at that grocery store. I got to thinking if I am blown away by seed catalogs, what would kids think about them? Would they want to eat an orange watermelon? What about a black radish? Could I convince them that borlotto beans taste like strawberries and cream?

One of my favorite books is “The Growing Classroom: Garden-Based Science” by Roberta Jaffe and Gary Appel. I often find myself flipping through this book to find the perfect lesson. One of my favorite lessons in the book is Zip Code Seeds. I have done this lesson with a fifth grade class and first grade class at 2 different schools.

We generally start every garden class with a discussion about the lesson. On this day we talk about what would grow well in our zip code. We also have a  short chat about the USDA zones and how lucky we are that we are in zone 10. Then the conversation leads into warm season and cool season crops and what those vegetables are. We also chat about the parts of a seed. What I love is hearing 25 first graders saying “cotyledon” in unison like we are in music class.

For the first graders they have their garden journals, seed catalogs, scissors, and glue sticks. The instruction is to find a root, leaf, any vegetable, and something they think would be fun to grow. They were to then cut out the picture of vegetable and paste it in their garden journals.

For the fifth graders we partner them up in groups of 2 and 3. They are given a seed catalog, a seed order form with a Southern California planting guide, and the instruction to find the seeds that we will plant in the warm season. They have to find seed for the following categories:  root, leaf, stem, flower, fruit, seed, favorite vegetable, and something that looks fun to grow. They look through the catalog, fill out the seed order form with variety and prices, and then add up the total cost for the seeds.

These are the lessons that I am thankful that I am able to do what I do. It is such a delight to see 20-30 children leafing through seed catalogs talking about vegetables and fruit.

The kid that picked out a cardone/cardoon for his fun to grow vegetable. The kiddo that was holding the page with a bunch of watermelons and couldn’t stop saying “there are no seeds in it!”

My hope is that when these kids are in high school and beyond they see a purple carrot, a seedless watermelon, or they are in France on holiday and order a cardone for dinner, they are taken back to elementary school when they saw these things for the very first time.

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