behavior · children · community · environment · health · learning · Nature · school

Playing in the garden: Kids learn about gardening, bugs and flowers at WSU Extension

This is a great example of how even “country kids” – all of these kids come from communities surrounded by farmland and agriculture – enjoy and appreciate hands-on experiences and learning about gardening and the natural environment.

Kids learn about gardening, bugs and flowers at WSU Extension | All Access |

About 70 classmates participated Thursday in the Washington State University Skagit County Extension Master Gardener’s “Discovery In Gardening — Is Terrific” (DIG-IT) youth education program.

“It introduces kids to how the garden works, from the growth of the plants to how it arrives in your kitchen and what to do with the scraps,” said Master Gardener Chuck Howell.

The program was started in 2002 by two teachers, Master Gardener Gail Messett said.

The format of the program has changed over the years, Messett said, but the goal has remained the same: Get kids outside and into the garden.

“They’re learning respect for insects and bees and flowers,” Messet said. “I think they go home pretty awestruck, actually.”

more via Kids learn about gardening, bugs and flowers at WSU Extension | All Access |

architecture · creativity · design · environment · Nature · play

Giant Living Sculptures At Atlanta Botanical Gardens’ Exhibition | Bored Panda

Beautiful sculptures, and a great way of being playful with gardening and making gardens more engaging for everyone.

Mosaiculture is an excellent art form for those among us with the green thumbs and the space to do it. An excellent example of this complex but beautiful artistic process would be the “Imaginary Worlds” mosaiculture exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens – these elaborate and massive green structures create mystical and fantastic worlds that are lush with living foliage.There is more to these amazing works of living art than meets the eye. Most of them begin with a steel frame of some sort, which is covered with steel mesh. This mesh is then covered with sphagnum moss and soil, which is seeded with all sorts of plants. Underneath the mesh, a network of irrigation channels supply water to the plants on the surface, helping them grow.

more via Giant Living Sculptures At Atlanta Botanical Gardens’ Exhibition | Bored Panda.

behavior · community · environment · work

Creative Leadership Grows in the Garden

English: Photo of Robert Hart's forest garden ...
English: Photo of Robert Hart’s forest garden by Graham Burnett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great insight from Tim Brown of IDEO on how playing in the dirt can forge great leadership skills:

Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought to what gardening, design, and creative leadership have in common.

Gardening is generative, iterative, and user-centered
When designers in our Chicago studio first planted a roof garden, they noticed people were picking and eating the strawberries and tomatoes and leaving the eggplants and tomatillos to rot on the vine. They soon realized that planting a work garden for 60 busy people is very different from planting a home garden for a family of four. Project deadlines simply took priority over cooking, so any plants that took extra steps to prepare were ignored. The next year, the designers planted a “Grab and Go Garden” that contained only fruits and vegetables that could be eaten straight away. This time, more plants were eaten, less were wasted. A good garden, like good design, needs to meet the needs of its users.

Full article:

behavior · community · environment · happiness · health · Nature

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA | Video on

Happy Spring Forward. Time to start planting seeds and playing in the dirt. In honor of getting dirty and creative, here’s a a TED talk from Ron Finley, guerrilla gardener.

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”Ron Finley grows a nourishing food culture in South Central L.A.’s food desert by planting the seeds and tools for healthy eating.

Best quote ever: Gardening is the most therapeutic & defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus you get strawberries.”

via Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA | Video on

community · environment · health · Social

Bee boulevard: How to turn an urban corridor into a haven for native pollinators | Grist

English: Amber Flush rose - Bagatelle Rose Gar...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I couldn’t stay away for long, could I?

I thought this was an interesting article about actively creating space in urban environments to promote biodiversity and making our lives as humans healthier (more bees means more flowers, fruits and veggies), and it just so happens to make the space prettier and more enjoyable visually as well.

Several years ago, Sarah Bergmann, a painter by training, started asking questions about the fate of the world’s pollinators. And while she’s not an environmentalist per se, Bergmann’s art and graphic design work never stray far from the environmental sphere. To her, the complex and shifting relationships between pollinators and plants have always begged further investigation. Bergmann’s response to what she learned is a work-in-progress called the Pollinator Pathway, a mile-long corridor of pollinator-friendly, mostly native plants stretching between two green spaces in the heart of Seattle.

Bergmann chose the pathway’s two endpoints — the Seattle University campus and a lot-sized forest called Nora’s Woods — for their diverse plant life and lack of pesticides. Since building the first test garden in 2008 with the help of a small city grant, she and hundreds of volunteers have installed 16 more gardens in parking strips along the way. “It’s not just a random line of plants; it’s meant to find two existing green spaces within the city and draw a line between them,” she says.

Gardens are built with the cooperation and enthusiasm of homeowners on the corridor, who have also agreed to maintain them. They must be drought-tolerant, pesticide free, and, ideally, contain at least 70 percent native plants — though Bergmann says the project hasn’t quite hit that target yet. And of course, the plants must be appealing to bees and other pollinators. These requirements, combined with city height restrictions for parking-strip vegetation, led to a list of about 50 plants that can be part of the pathway.

Biologists have been promoting migration corridors for mammals and birds for decades, so why not bees? Gardening is also a fun, playful activity for many people, and the idea that they’re helping out something else in return is also satisfying.

Find out more about creating bee corridors via Bee boulevard: How to turn an urban corridor into a haven for native pollinators | Grist.

behavior · community · environment


Promoting backyard farms, (or even large scale farms and modern-day homesteading), has a new term: "Ag"tivism. From the young and idealistic to the old and curmudgeonly, many people are finding time, space, and energy to grow their own tomatoes.

From The New Agtivist: Edith Floyd is making a Detroit urban farm, empty lot by empty lot:

Edith Floyd is the real deal. With little in the way of funding or organizational infrastructure, she runs Growing Joy Community Garden on the northeast side of Detroit. Not many folks bother to venture out to her neighborhood, but Edith has been inspiring me for years. I caught up with her on a cold, rainy November afternoon. While we talked in the dining room, her husband Henry watched their grandkids. Q. What neighborhood are we in? What is it like?

A. This is the northeast side — near the city airport. It’s surrounded by graveyards on three sides and then the other barrier is the railroad track; we are surrounded by railroad tracks, and sometimes those trains stay for like 30 minutes, so you are trapped; ain’t no way out.

Q. So you’ve seen a lot of changes.

A. Yeah, when I came it was beautiful — there were grocery stores in the center, like in the middle of the neighborhood, but … There was like 66 houses on this block, and now [there are] about six that people live in, and three need to be torn down, and the rest of it is empty. That’s where I’m putting my farm on, all the lots. [Editor's note: some are calling this practice "blotting." Here's a recent NPR story on blotting in Detroit.] …

Q. What are you growing on those lots?

A: Across the street I have my strawberry lot. I try to plant by lot. I have a collard green lot, a kale lot, an okra lot, an eggplant lot, green bean lot. I had a corn lot, but it didn’t work so well. Right now I have a garlic lot, I had a tomato lot, cucumber lot, squash, cabbage, broccoli, watermelon, cantaloupe. I like flowers, so I planted some of them. I had potatoes, mustard greens, turnip greens.

Q. That’s a lot of food!

A. Well, if it comes up it’s a lot, but I give some to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. I sell some at Eastern Market, and Wayne State Market, but the cabbage does not sell so I don’t take cabbage there. (I still have about two of 300 pounds of cabbage I need to harvest.)

More at The New Agtivist: Edith Floyd is making a Detroit urban farm, empty lot by empty lot

NPR recently had an article about how people of my generation are also taking up organic farming with a passion:

…there’s a new surge of youthful vigor into American agriculture — at least in the corner of it devoted to organic, local food. Thousands of young people who’ve never farmed before are trying it out.

Some 250 of them gathered recently at a gorgeous estate in the Hudson River valley of New York: the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown.

Some of these young farmers already have their own farms. Some are apprentices, working on more established farms for a year or two. And others are still just thinking about it. But the overwhelming majority of farmers here at this conference want to farm without chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

They were there to learn skills — from seminars on soil fertility, handling sheep, and how to find affordable land — and just as importantly, to meet each other. In the evening, they played music and danced.

They represent a new breed of farmer. Very few of them grew up on farms. Most of them went to college. And now, they want to grow vegetables, or feed pigs.

More at Who Are The Young Farmers Of ‘Generation Organic’?

The biggest question interviewers often ask is "why?" Why farm? Why go "backwards" to a life of farming.
For many people, it’s economical (see an earlier blog post about young entrepreneurs making a living farming, growing eggs and herding sheep). But an even bigger driver for most is the desire to feel connected to their environment, to enrich their surroundings with greenery and healthy food.

From Grist:

Q. You haven’t always been an urban farmer. What did you do before this?

A. I worked at Detroit Public Schools. I started out with the Head Start Center and then I went to the middle school, to the Ed Tech, [which is] now the Computer Lab. I started farming because they laid me off and didn’t call me back. Farming is not making a living, it’s just keeping food in my freezer. I try to sell some so I can get some more equipment, so it will be easier for me to farm.

Q. So how much money are you making in a season?

A. I was trying to reach for 3,000, but I only made it to two something. I have to add up the last bit; I haven’t got my last check. Every year I try to up it; the first year I made 1,000. The second year I went 2,000; this year I was trying to go for $3,000.

From NPR:

"It was born out of a concern for the environment," says Brian Bates, who plans to work at a farm in northern Michigan after he graduates from Penn State. "I spent the first two years of college with one question in mind – basically, how can I have the greatest impact in my life in the world. And the thing that I kept coming back to, that everyone connected to, was food."

Others say that they simply enjoy the work, the style of agrarian life, and the connection to food.

"I feel lost when I’m not farming, when I’m not out in the field. It’s where I find the most peace and harmony in my life," says Liz Moran, who helps manage Quail Hill Farm in the eastern end of Long Island, New York.

"When I look around, and you’re amongst the plants and the sunshine – that’s my office, that’s where I want to be," said Rodger Phillips, who grows food on an urban farm in Hartford, Conn.

Others talk about the satisfaction of doing something practical, creating something valuable. "Having a skill was really important to me. Having studied political science, I wanted to do something that was productive, that was real. To have a real skill, and be able to provide my family, my community, a vital element," says Kristin Carbone, who runs Radix Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

And then there was Lindsey Shute. "How did I get into farming? Because I started dating a farmer!" she says with a laugh. [blogger's note: check out a similar story in the book "xx"]

It seems that people are looking for more control over their wallets, their lives, and what they put in their stomachs, and are doing it through farming.

I know a lot of medical and researched reasons why playing in the dirt is good for you, but I’m curious about anecdotal reasons. Leave your experiences with gardening and farming in the comments.

autism · brain · cognition · mental health · neuroscience

Gardening in the brain: Cells called microglia prune the connections between neurons, shaping how the brain is wired

Wow, speaking of mental flowers. Researchers have found that the brain has its own weeding/pruning capabilities:

Gardeners know that some trees require regular pruning: some of their branches have to be cut so that others can grow stronger. The same is true of the developing brain: cells called microglia prune the connections between neurons, shaping how the brain is wired, scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory EMBL in Monterotondo, Italy, discovered. Published online in Science, the findings could one day help understand neurodevelopmental disorders like autism.

Microglia are related to the white blood cells that engulf pathogens and cellular debris, and scientists knew already that microglia perform that same clean-up task when the brain is injured, ‘swallowing up’ dead and dying neurons. Looking at the developing mouse brain under the microscope, Gross and colleagues found proteins from synapses — the connections between neurons — inside microglia, indicating that microglia are able to engulf synapses too.

more via Gardening in the brain: Cells called microglia prune the connections between neurons, shaping how the brain is wired.

Now I have some high standards to live up to; making this blog act like a proverbial brain cleaner!

Original paper: European Molecular Biology Laboratory (2011, July 22). Gardening in the brain: Cells called microglia prune the connections between neurons, shaping how the brain is wired. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/07/110721142410.htm

Nature · writing

A Flowering Tribute To Emily Dickinson : NPR

What a great combination of nature, poetry, history, and how museums contribute more than just dusty history lessons.

Emily Dickenson

Dickinson loved nature and was an avid gardener, and now an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden called Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers is putting on display a side of the poet that is little known.

Gardening was a huge part of Dickinson’s life and her art. “I was always attached to mud,” she once wrote, and a sophisticated understanding of plants and flowers is reflected in her poetry. According to Gregory Long, the president and CEO of the New York Botanical Garden, Dickinson used to tuck little poems into bouquets of flowers that she gave to her neighbors.

more via A Flowering Tribute To Emily Dickinson : NPR.