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.