Yay!!! After months of waiting, Ground Education is officially a tax-exempt organization and donors can now deduct any contributions they make to our outdoor education program. We are anxious to find new partners who will help us bring our award-winning outdoor education program to new schools. Let the funding search begin...
and our native plants are loving it. Last weekend Ground Education partnered with the Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards and students from CSULB to plant more than 150 natives in our Schoolyard Habitat at Lowell Elementary. We braved steep slopes and sneaky winds to welcome these specimens to their new home. This is Phase III of a multi-year effort to remove invasive ice plant and provide a thoughtful, native sanctuary for local wildlife and vegetation. Elementary students help with every step, and have been discovering many new visitors to the school, including western fence lizards and local sweat bees. And now Mother Nature is doing her part, providing much needed seasonal rains. Hooray.
We are in the middle of the largest migration in history. For the first time ever, more than half of the world's people live in urban areas. So what, then, is nature's role in a city? Perhaps the most exciting glimpse of what nature can mean for cities is emerging from scientists who find that a little bit of urban nature helps people truly flourish. A 2015 study in Barcelona found that green spaces around schools improve the mental development of young children. A Toronto study showed that increasing the number of trees on a street significantly improves resident health.*
Our students are building "green infrastructure" at several Long Beach schools by planting schoolyard habitats with plants that function as naturally occurring plant communities. We believe that nature can help make cities healthier, more resilient and more appealing places to live - and that we can conserve nature not from cities, but for cities.
*The Nature Conservancy, Feb/March 2016
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.