Native American cultures often had a special relationship to plants, treating them as members of their extended family. With that level of respect and love comes a great deal of tending, observing, and nurturing. Natives knew their plant counterparts intimately, their likes and dislikes, early signs of stress or disease, and how to harvest just enough so that people and plants thrive together. This year we've been introducing 4th graders around Long Beach to native plants from long ago that thrived along the southern Los Angeles County coast. We've challenged them to take their time and really observe and connect with these plants, practicing the art of botanical drawings and using those drawings for plant scavenger hunts. We hope to instill a sense of place and respect for all living things.
At Ground Education, we emphasize many science concepts in our school learning gardens. These past few weeks we've been observing the weather with first grade classes throughout Long Beach. We installed our own simple weather stations to measuring temperature, wind, and the amount of water our gardens receive each week (I'd call it rain, but that's really not the case this year!) We made predictions, practiced reading our instruments, and recorded our data in weather journals. And to make it personal and extra fun, the students made old-fashioned pinwheels to model a wind turbine.
Last week we had our first Giving Garden Day of the school year at Herrera Elementary. Third graders study the concepts of community and economics as part of their Social Studies curriculum. Our Giving Garden lessons help integrate these concepts by exploring how businesses small and large can be good citizens and support their local communities. We start a small farming business at school, exploring the resources and operating costs involved in growing seasonal produce. Then on harvest day, we prepare our crops for donating to local organizations that serve meals to those in need. This time, we partnered with Christian Outreach in Action, a Long Beach non-profit that serves two hot meals a day and distributes groceries to those who face food scarcity. We donated lettuces, swiss chard, carrots, and kale and made colorful placemats to remind those who eat our food that it was grown with love and care. These lessons continually generate great thinking and questions among the students and remain some of our favorite Ground Education experiences.
Nothing is more satisfying to us than removing invasive plants to restore local, native habitat for plants and wildlife. At Lowell Elementary, we are on Phase III of an ambitious long-term project to remove the suffocating ice pant from a 20,000sf hillside and reintroduce a variety of local vegetation like bladder pod, buckwheat, coastal live oaks, and toyon. This December, the community joined us for an ambitious ice plant removal party. It was a strenuous day, but the exhilarating feeling of rolling the ice plant up like a giant carpet to expose the hillside soil to new and healthy biodiversity was priceless. Thanks to all those who helped, especially Lenny Arkinstall and the Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards. We couldn't have done it without you!
This December our technical advisor and mentor, Laura Masterson, helped us design and build the new flexible drip irrigation system for our urban farm site at the Boys and Girls Club. This system is simple enough for the kids to help create and will deliver reliable water to our 2,000sf site. When she's not volunteering with us in Long Beach, Laura runs the wildly successful 47th Avenue Farm in Portland, Oregon and serves on the Oregon Board of Agriculture. See her work at www.47thavefarm.com.
At Ground Education, we love it when students slow down and observe nature at work. At first glance, this common milkweed at Herrera Elementary seemed to be quietly blooming. But when we looked closer, there were Monarch larva (i.e., caterpillars) of all sizes munching happily on nearly every leaf. There were bees busily pollinating, and aphids cleverly camouflaged as yellow buds on the stems. And there were droves of ladybugs enjoying the feast! We also spotted large milkweed bugs, which dine on the spongy seedpods, but apparently have been known to eat dead caterpillars if given the opportunity. The students were fascinated by this ecosystem at work and had lots of big ideas and questions about what they saw. It was a bountiful, emergent day in the learning garden.
The Boys and Girls Club members are making it happen! Every week we move closer to creating a productive urban farm where kids will enjoy seasonal meals, practice citizen science, and take pride in the tasty results of their sweat equity. Last week we tested the soil for contaminates, a critical step in the process. Kids scrubbed tools and sample jars, used a huge hand auger, and cleared away weeds to expose some really hard, dry soil. And the news was good - the soil is safe for planting! The next step is to add a 6" layer of compost as a base for our row crops. Hopefully by Spring, we'll be enjoying our first harvest.
At IVA charter middle school, we've been exploring the natural world and our deep connection to (and dependence on) plants through poetry, field trips, and tastings. Together, we've been inspired to create a local habitat at the school, with plants native to coastal Southern California. This week we planted nearly 180 specimens - California Buckwheat, Hummingbird Sage, Coyote Bush, Toyon, Coffeeberry, Sisyrinchium and others - in a 3,000sf garden. This native learning garden will be a place for reflection, exploration, observation, and fun. Thank you to the California Native Plant Society for your generous contribution to the project.
We love celebrating seasonal food, and in Southern California it's pomegranate time. These magical ruby gems, which originated in Ancient Persia, and have long been celebrated in mythology, folk tales, and art. These days we understand them as an antioxidant powerhouse and a shirt-staining indulgence. We had a great week celebrating and tasting this fruit in 3rd grade classrooms all over Long Beach!
Using Design Thinking principles, Westerly Middle School students have been exploring ways to rethink lunch practices at school. After weeks of data collection, interviews, and inspiration research, this week we brainstormed dozens of way to nudge student behavior towards recycling. We can't wait to see what models the students dream up. Great job Eco-Leaders!