children · culture · education · environment · learning · Nature · school

Students Go Whole Hog with Farm-to-Cafeteria Cooking | Civil Eats

A few schools are adopting a more hands-on way of teaching about food, animal care, and science, which is actually an older technique: farm animals.

Most recently, slow roasting pork tenderloin was part of a homework assignment for a Bend, OR, high school culinary class. And the source of their pork? Mountain View High School, less than a mile away, where FFA formerly known as Future Farmers of America students are raising pigs.

These classes are complementary components of an integrated farm to school program at Bend-LaPine School District, where 29 schools serve more than 16,000 students. Bend-LaPine has students raising animals, butchering animals, and feeding a school meal program. Neatly wrapped packages of pork move from classroom to school kitchen, where they are cooked into succulent carnitas for all 29 school cafeterias.

The program breaks the normal bounds of food in school and has created a whole new arena for students to learn. “It’s a full circle agriculture education experience,” says Katrina Wiest, the manager for the Bend farmers’ market and wellness specialist for the school district.

“Agriculture is a big part of my life,” says Wiest, who was raised on a wheat farm and is married to a farmer. “I feel it’s important that kids know where their food comes from.”

For close to ten years, Wiest has been pioneering the farm to school movement in the high desert of central Oregon: sourcing local food for schools and providing agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities in the cafeteria, classroom, and community.

more via Students Go Whole Hog with Farm-to-Cafeteria Cooking | Civil Eats.

I think this is an awesome idea! It’s a great hands-on learning opportunity for kids. A lot of schools have shied away from having animals on or near campus, or having kids even deal with animals, due to safety and health concerns. But how else and where else are kids going to learn about being safe around animals, or safety and caring for the animals themselves, unless they get somewhat structured guidance like this? Most kids don’t have a friendly farmer they can go visit and mess with their livestock on a regular basis.

But more importantly, it is a very hands-on, real-time way of letting kids work on something and seeing the results of their labor, whether it’s a happy pig or a delicious plate of carnitas, while also letting them experience delayed gratification (it takes hard work and a long time to grow a pig). It teaches kids how food is made, which is important when making food decisions. Plus, it can be very therapeutic to pet a pig.

Where I grew up was fairly rural, and yet the 4H/FFA program was still seen as a weird club that involved a lot of horse-showing. I am glad to see it getting integrated more into school programs.

community · happiness · mental health

North America’s Largest Urban Orchard Transforms an Old Gas Station in Downtown Vancouver | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

While most of my blog posts focus on playful design and things that create a playful atmosphere, a lot of us don’t have all of our basic needs met in order to be in a playful state. We are often overstressed, underslept, overworked, and detached from community. Play researchers have found evidence that goes along with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that find we need these things in order to be ready to explore, create, and be healthy. That’s why I also like to talk about what it takes to get us to a space where we feel safe, healthy, and ready to be playful.

Going with the philosophy that gardening is good for the soul, as well as aiming for convenience, a group in Vancouver has opened a huge urban farm and orchard.

Vancouver’s Sole Food Farms has transformed an old gas station into North American’s largest urban orchard! Located in Downtown Eastside, the orchard provides jobs to recovering addicts and those with mental illness, giving them a chance to make a living while raising organic food. The organic fruit, along with produce from three other sites, is sold to local restaurants and grocery stores.

more via North America’s Largest Urban Orchard Transforms an Old Gas Station in Downtown Vancouver | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

Adding green space to a city, whether it’s a garden, park, or a single tree, has also repeatedly shown to be valuable even to those who just observe the space, they don’t need to even be actively engaged in maintaining it. The garden adds connection to and investment in the land, which is good for building community, and provides a sense of agency for those who might not otherwise have one.

Where have you seen community gardens spring up? What works, what doesn’t? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · community

Building gardens to promote community

Before I share my ideas for the latest OpenIDEO challenge, I wanted to capture some of the ideas I submitted for their challenge “How might we inspire and enable communities to take more initiative in making their local environments better?

Here is my first one:

Community gardens create ownership, a sense of place, and shared goals

Community gardens provide green space, community ownership, local landmarks and create a communal space for people to share, and beauty as well as food!

Urban farming and agriculture has exploded in popularity in the United States, and . community gardens are now present in all 50 states. These communal green spaces can be as small as a parking space or as large as a few acres. They can be used to produce food, act as filtering systems for urban runoff such as rain gardens, or simply grow flowers.
Research is finding that these gardens are beneficial to communities for numerous reasons. First, these gardens provide green space and support the local environment, from migrating birds and bees to potentially filtering urban runoff. Second, they can often supplement vegetables for communities who live in densely urban areas where it can be hard to access fresh fruits and veggies through a grocery store. Third, these gardens create a sense of ownership not only for those working actively in the garden, but anyone who lives in the neighborhood. Creating this sense of ownership for a small space makes it more likely that communities will work together to protect and save larger green spaces, such as beaches or parks, that the community can share and enjoy in.
Community gardens are easy to set up and maintain, with minimal initial investment other than some seeds and a shovel. The key to success would be the need to designate a leader at first to spearhead the building and maintaining of the garden, to teach others and look over things until the garden was established and other knowledgeable gardeners began to work the space, or new gardeners who learned from experience in the community garden. The garden leader would need to be able to lead but not “own” the garden, but rather make it accessible for all community members.

architecture · community · environment · health · mental health · Social

Community gardens improve health, enrichment

Garden/Allotment
Garden/Allotment (Photo credit: tricky (rick harrison))

I’ve been pulling from The Dirt, the blog for the American Society of Landscape Architects, a lot lately, but there’s been a lot of great stuff coming off of their blog lately, including this conversation about the increase of urban agriculture, usually in the form of community gardens:

At the Greater & Greener: Reimagining Parks for 21st Century Cities conference in New York City, Laura Lawson, ASLA, Professor and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University, described how urban agriculture has experienced explosive growth in recent years. According to a survey produced by the American Community Gardening Associationand Rutgers University, community gardens are now found in all 50 states. Some 445 organizations responded to the survey, listing a total of 9,030 gardens. Of these organizations, 90 percent have seen increased demand over the past five years. Also, some 39 percent of the gardens listed were built just in the past five years. These organizations have a variety of goals, including food production and access, social engagement, nutrition, education, and neighborhood revitalization.

Sarita Daftary then discussed her work as Project Director of East New York Farms. East New York is the easternmost neighborhood of Brooklyn. A community of 180,000 residents, East New York is underserved by fresh food markets. The East New York Farms program (see image above) seeks to engage the community through its 30 backyard gardens and 24 community gardens, employing 33 youth interns, 80 gardeners, and 100+ volunteers.

The program addresses neighborhood food access through its farmers markets, growing and selling a diversity of unusual foods that reflect the diversity of the neighborhood.

Read more at City Bountiful: The Rise of Urban Agriculture

Community gardens put power back in the hands of people to improve their environment AND their nutrition. Feeling like you have control of your self and your situation is extremely important to humans, both at home and in the workplace, so even if it’s not going to solve world hunger, or even hunger in the U.S., it will help out a lot of people live happier, healthier, more enriching lives.

community · environment · happiness · health · psychology

What trees mean to communities: more than you may think | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

Tree - leaf canopy
Street view of a tree (Photo credit: blmiers2)

This is such a great commentary from Kaid Benfield’s Blog about the importance of trees for urban health and well-being that I just had to share:

…[recently] I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees.  The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowdsourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.

I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees.  As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community.  San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.

If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service.  Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees.  Among other things, he calculated that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.”  Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure.  In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.

I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally…

Read all of: What trees mean to communities: more than you may think | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

I am a huge proponent of urban trees for all of the reasons stated above, as well as the emotional and psychological benefits that Benfield goes into, but also including the creative and playful benefits of having trees around to swing on, climb, watch animals in, or just sit and ponder under.

Benfield also goes into how trees are often controversial in urban environments because they drop leaves and sticks, and potentially branches, on streets and houses. But to me that is part of living connected to one’s environment, even if it means raking some leaves out of places you’d rather they not be (it’s not like the tree is intentionally dropping them on your lawn).

What are your feelings about urban trees? Have you planted a tree or shrub in your neighborhood? What did you like, or not like, about the results? Let me know in the comments below.

culture · environment · health · Nature

‘Food forest’ in middle of Seattle will feature an urban view

Woman shopping for vegetable starts at Seattle...
Soon Seattle-ites will be able to harvest their own veggies from a large community "forest." Image via Wikipedia

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I don’t have long, but I had to stop and share in more detail this great story about an urban food forest being proposed for a Seattle neighborhood:

A plot of grass sits in the middle of Seattle, feet from a busy road and on a hill that overlooks the city’s skyline. But it’s no ordinary patch of green. Residents hope it will become one of the country’s largest “food forests.”

The Beacon Hill park, which will start at 2 acres and grow to 7, will offer city dwellers a chance to pick apples, plums and other crops right from the branch.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the people of Seattle to be able to connect to the environment,” said Maureen Erbe, who walked her two dogs next to the plot on a recent overcast day.

Would she pluck some fruit from the forest?

“Heck yes, I love a good blueberry. You’re not from Seattle if you don’t like a good blueberry,” she said.

For health-conscious and locally grown-food-loving Seattle, the park is a new step into urban agriculture. Cities from Portland to Syracuse, N.Y., already have their own versions. In Syracuse, for example, vacant lots were turned into vegetable gardens to be tended by local teens.

Seattle is an awesome place to have an urban garden. People already replace the little strips of grass between the sidewalk and the street with gardens, and in the summer Seattle is practically overrun with feral blackberry bushes and other fruit.

This is also a great way to improve your environment and make it just a little bit healthier and happier.

This idea has been getting a lot of attention in the media (see related links below), and I hope it will inspire other cities to do the same. Even in cities where it doesn’t rain allll the time, it is more than possible to create spaces for people to garden or for crops to grow feral and let nature take its course.

community · culture · education · environment · health · Nature

Urban farming in NYC

Just read about this cool example of urban farming: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in good ol’ New York City.

From the site:

On the shoreline of the East River and with a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is a 6,000 square foot green roof organic vegetable farm located atop a warehouse rooftop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.During New York City’s growing season, the farmers at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm supply a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, an onsite farm market, and bicycle fresh produce to area restaurants.

In partnership with food education organization Growing Chefs, the rooftop farm hosts a range of farm-based educational and volunteer programs.

 

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm offers educational programming in partnership with Growing Chefs: Food Education from Field to Fork.

 

 

They also offer talks, events (today was their annual pie eating contest!), and other ways to engage with urban farming. If you live anywhere near there, go check it out; it is amazing to see a true working farm in action, and to see it done in an urban environment is really exciting. Although, you might want to wait until the weather isn’t, you know, freezing!, to go visit:

The Farm is a bit windy & chilly this time of year, so we’re waiting ’til spring for visits.  To register for a workshop, contact us Education@RooftopFarms.org.

What a great way to learn about where your food comes from, and it’s healthier and fresher since it doesn’t have to travel as far or receive so many pesticides or preservatives for transport. And apparently these urban farms are now popping up all over the United States; check out some of the links below to read about other city’s urban farms. Eat up!