FoodCorps has held a special place in my heart ever since I served as a FoodCorps service member at Phelan Elementary during the 2019-2020 school year. It was hard work and also immensely rewarding to connect kids with healthy food and share the joy of gardening. I loved seeing the smiles on students' faces when they harvested their first tomato from the school garden and tasted their first “rainbow” smoothie.
FoodCorps' mission is to “partner with schools and communities to nourish kids' health, education, and sense of belonging.” Their vision is that “every child, in every school, experiences the joy and power of food”. As a member of the AmeriCorps network, FordCorps provides leadership and educational opportunities for service members in limited-resource communities. In addition, FoodCorps advocates for policy change to promote equity and sustainability in the school food environment.
The Service Member's Role
Service members must complete at least 1700 service hours during an 11-month term. They are paid a living stipend and receive a Segal Education Award after successfully completing their term. Those who serve in California also receive a California for All Education Award.
FoodCorps service members focus on three main areas of impact: leading hands-on lessons, influencing nourishing school meals, and building a schoolwide culture of health. In the first area, they teach students to grow, prepare, and taste new foods with interactive lessons linked to academic standards. To influence school meals, service members conduct taste tests, promote healthy food choices in the cafeteria, and work with school district administrators and staff to add local foods to school meals. To build a culture of health, service members collaborate with the entire school community–including teachers, administrators, and families–to plan activities such as family cooking nights and garden work days.
Master Gardeners Help with Garden Training
FoodCorps service members start the school year with a wide range of gardening and farming experience. Some have majored in agriculture, and others have grown only houseplants. Most are expected to start or maintain gardens at the schools where they serve.
To provide their service members with a basic level of gardening know-how, FoodCorps site supervisors in Los Angeles (Rachel Black), Upland (Cassidy Furnari), and San Diego (Janelle Manzano) planned a joint garden training class. Cassidy, the Upland Unified School District (UUSD) Farm to School Manager, asked the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners to help deliver the training at Baldy View Elementary, which has an extensive vegetable garden, native plant garden, and orchard. Maggie O'Neill, the Master Gardener Coordinator, and I were excited to accept the challenge and prepare for the class.
For the next half-hour, I led a hands-on demonstration of how to teach composting to students. I asked the service members to line up and add greens (food waste) to the compost bins followed by browns (mulch). Then everyone took turns watering the compost piles and turning them with shovels. That's all there was to it! To continue the decomposition process, compost needs to be watered and turned on a regular basis. For reference, I gave the service members copies of a composting resource sheet and my favorite compost guide from LA Compost.
After the training, the FoodCorps service members, site supervisors, and Master Gardeners gathered for a healthy lunch including figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash harvested from the Upland school gardens. A fitting end to a productive day! I hope this experience inspires some of the service members to become Master Gardeners in the future.
Meet the Upland USD FoodCorps Service Members
Valerie Tu has returned for a second year with FoodCorps after spending a year as a Fullbright Scholar and English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan. She is teaching at Baldy View Elementary and Citrus Elementary. During her first year at UUSD in 2020-2021, Valerie's interaction with the students was entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Valerie graduated from the New York University Gallitin School of Individualized Study with a Bachelor of Arts, concentrating on the politics of food. While studying at NYU, she also worked as a farm operations intern, a resident assistant, and a culinary intern at the Museum of Food and Drink among other activities.
I am so grateful to Valerie, Meagan, and all the FoodCorps service members who devote a year or more to promoting food justice in schools and communities across the county. Last school year, FoodCorps service members taught 15,000 lessons, led 6,000 food tastings, and supported over 350 gardens nationwide. In four Upland schools, approximately 1,400 students received biweekly FoodCorps programming, and nearly 2,000 students participated in lunchtime activities and engagement during the school year. Through these types of hands-on learning activities, service members will help FoodCorps reach its goal for every child to have access to food education and nourishing food in school by 2030.
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In April, I attended the Growing School Gardens Summit in Denver, Colorado, thanks to support from UCCE San Bernardino. The conference was promoted as “a gathering to inform, inspire, and invigorate the school garden movement” and was hosted by the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation in partnership with LifeLab and the School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network. It was so exciting to meet school garden educators and influencers from across the country and return home with a suitcase full of seeds, handouts, business cards, and healthy snacks to motivate me for months to come! In this blog, I want to share my most memorable moments from the conference and give you an update on the Upland High School waste audit.
Growing Garden Leaders
Monthly webinar topics included planting with students, culinary connections, garden maintenance, seed saving, and composting. To keep trainees engaged remotely, a variety of tools and techniques were used: guest speakers, school and teacher spotlights, live demonstrations, breakout rooms, interactive group platforms, activity kits, Q&A sessions, and a social media group. I'm always looking for more tools to add to my environmental education toolbox! In addition, this type of “train the trainer” framework could be useful for our Master Gardener School Garden Committee.
Providing Effective Support to School Gardens
The “Growing Garden Leaders” workshop dovetailed nicely with another workshop held on the last day of the conference. “Providing Effective Support to School Gardens in Your Region” showed how to increase the impact and effectiveness of garden-based activities with limited capacity. Presented by the United States Botanic Garden and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (both in Washington, D.C.), the session introduced the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework. This approach advocates building a strong foundation of “tier 1” activities that are available to everyone and disseminated widely. About 80 percent of those served will get what they need from tier 1. Two examples are a school garden guide and a monthly newsletter. The remaining 20 percent will need more support from tiers 2 and 3 such as group training or a site evaluation. This concept resonated with me because our School Garden Committee just finished adding school garden resources to the Master Gardener website, a tier 1 activity. Now we have a place to refer those who contact us for help.
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans
Staff from Edible Schoolyard New Orleans gave two excellent short talks. Sasha Solano-McDaniel discussed how a Spanish cooking club enabled language acquisition in the kitchen classroom. Both English language learners and native English speakers benefitted from sharing their cultures and building community. Brian Tome outlined how he created a resilient, undemanding, and educational garden at the Phillis Wheatley Community School. He accomplished this by planting cover crops and perennials and creating a food forest using plants common in the tropics and subtropics such as taro, ginger, turmeric, papaya, and lemongrass.
Food Forests for Schools
My favorite presentation of the conference was “Food Forests for Schools” presented by The Education Fund, a non-profit organization that provides leadership and support for public education in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Food forests are multi-layered food growing systems consisting of trees, bushes, herbs, vines, and ground covers. In Miami-Dade County, 26 of the 51 elementary schools have perennial, edible landscapes that provide food for students to take home and eat in the cafeteria.
Through the Edible Outdoor Eco-Labs to Accelerate Learning program, The Education Fund installs food forests and shows schools how to use them as outdoor classrooms to teach science and nutrition lessons. The main design elements of the food forest are a defined entrance, walking paths, an outdoor classroom, and a compost circle surrounded by banana trees. I would love to see this type of design used in more school gardens in Southern California. Many tropical plants that grow in South Florida can also grow here at lower elevations.
Building a Sustainable School Garden Program
In “Building and Institutionalizing a Sustainable School Program”, Dan Brown, a junior/senior high school teacher in rural Northern California, described how he and his students started with an existing greenhouse to build a garden program that now sells about 2000 pounds of organic produce each year. In 2007, he began applying for grants and used the Ag Mechanics shop to build raised beds, cold frames, shade frames, and high tunnels. Over the years, the garden program has sold many types of plants and produce, saved seeds, and run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project.
Green Bronx Machine
Green Bronx Machine started as an after-school, alternative program for high school students and has evolved into an organization that serves more than 50,000 students with an interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum. Green Bronx Machine also supports the Food for Others Garden on a decommissioned city street in the Bronx, a wheelchair-accessible urban farm and culinary training kitchen for special needs students, and an outdoor Learning Garden at Community School 55 among many other projects and partnerships. Truly amazing!
Upland High School Waste Audit Update
As a follow-up to the waste audit, the UUSD Nutrition Services Department is evaluating ways to collect and recycle food waste, increase education on school meal requirements, provide share buckets for unwanted items, switch to bulk condiments and sauces, and make more sustainable purchasing choices. Changes such as these will help UUSD meet the Senate Bill 1383 requirements for organic waste reduction and edible food recovery.
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I can't believe I've been working part-time as the UCCE San Bernardino Environmental Education Coordinator for six months already! As the saying goes, “time flies when you're having fun”. I was having so much fun that I started a second part-time position as the Farm to School Program Assistant for the Upland Unified School District (UUSD) at the end of January. Through these two positions, I hope to build stronger partnerships between UCCE and local schools.
In this month's blog, I want to introduce you to the UUSD Farm to School Program. The program is part of the Nutrition Services Department. Cassidy Furnari, the Program Manager, has been working with UUSD for over three years during which she's made tremendous progress building school gardens and providing hands-on learning opportunities. The district has 14 schools, 11 of which have gardens for the students. By the end of this school year, all schools will have gardens.
Cassidy started as an intern when she was completing her Master of Science degree in Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona. I first became acquainted with Cassidy when I served with FoodCorps at Phelan Elementary and two members of my cohort served at Upland schools. UUSD still supports two FoodCorps service members.
Rather than using a cookie-cutter approach, Cassidy aims to customize each school garden to match the school community and the school's goals and resources. Before doing anything else, she gets to know the entire school community—the administrators, staff, teachers, students, and parents—because she believes the most successful gardens come from community ideas. The more the community is included in the garden, the more sustainable it will be. Both community volunteers and the UUSD Maintenance and Operations Team are instrumental in building the gardens and bringing them to life.
Once the garden is up and running, the Farm to School Program grows organic seasonal produce for students and their families. All UUSD schools are registered as community food producers; so everything grown in the gardens can be served to students in the cafeterias. Cassidy is most excited about the cafeteria taste tests because they help students connect with the food being grown. One example was an eggplant dip taste test at Upland High School; the eggplant, garlic, onion, basil, and tomatoes used to make the dip were all grown on site. At Foothill Knolls STEM Academy, garden basil was turned into pesto for a taste test. Cassidy wants to show the students that their opinion matters and will be reflected in the cafeteria menu. Before the COVID pandemic, the cafeteria staff also added school-grown produce such as broccoli, radishes, carrots, and citrus to the salad bar. When schools shut down during COVID, produce bags containing lettuce, cabbage, herbs, citrus, and other fruits and vegetables were distributed to school families.
The Farm to School Program also provides a space for community and family education and engagement. Social media posts on YouTube and Instagram include cooking demonstrations and a recap of the week's activities. The program plans to make lessons and curriculum available to the school community through its website. In partnership with UUSD Support Services, the program will offer a stress management and eating course in the next month.
Planning for sustainability is critical to the continued success of Upland's Farm to School Program. This is accomplished by giving students and teachers agency over garden spaces and holding volunteer days to connect school communities with their gardens. The longer term plan is to train interested teachers to take care of the gardens and integrate them into their lessons. Garden sites are built for sustainability by completely removing the sod, laying down landscape fabric and substrate such as decomposed granite, and adding an extra layer of fabric underneath the garden beds.
Another aspect of sustainability is funding. Over the years, Cassidy has become a prolific grant writer. Thanks to her efforts, the UUSD Farm to School Program has received grants from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture), Sprouts, Whole Foods, Lowe's, Action for Healthy Kids, Walmart, and California Fertilizer Foundation.
I'm proud to be associated with such a strong and vibrant Farm to School Program and believe it's the perfect complement to my work at UCCE. I look forward to spending sunny days in school gardens with curious and energetic students. This is what makes my heart sing. I hope you too find your happy place in the garden!
Have you heard of SB 1383? If you haven't, you probably will soon because the regulations just took effect on January 1, 2022. I learned about this law through my involvement in community composting and collaboration with the City of Rancho Cucamonga Environmental Programs. Six months ago, I couldn't even have told you that SB stands for Senate Bill. The information I share here comes from CalRecycle website. It contains a wealth of resources on the regulations, waste collection and recycling, food recovery, education and outreach, and more.
What is SB 1383 all about? This groundbreaking legislation is a state-wide effort to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). SLCPs such as methane, black carbon, tropospheric (ground level) ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons remain in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide but have a much stronger warming effect. Therefore, reducing SLCPs has the potential to significantly slow global climate change in the near term. For more details, see the California Air Resources Board website.
In addition to organic waste reduction, SB 1383 requires a 20 percent increase in edible food recovery to reduce food insecurity, a problem that has worsened during the pandemic. About one in five Californians are food insecure. In 2018, CalRecycle conducted a waste characterization study that showed more than six million tons of food end up in landfills every year. By diverting edible food from landfills, food recovery organizations such as food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens can provide food to people in need.
One of the jurisdiction responsibilities specified by SB 1383 is to provide organics collection services to all residents and businesses. In this context, a jurisdiction may be a city, county, city and county, or special district that collects solid waste. Jurisdictions can choose a collection option that works best for their community; so you may see some changes to your current system.
Waste collection services may utilize one, two, three, or more color-coded containers. For example, a three-container, source-separated collection service uses a blue container for recyclables such as paper, plastic, and glass; a green container for compostables such as food and garden waste; and a black container for the remaining landfill waste. One and two-container services mix waste, which is later sorted by a facility that recovers at least 75 percent of the organics. Jurisdictions are also required to educate residents and businesses about collection requirements and how to sort materials into the correct container.
As a Master Gardener and environmental educator, I've been thinking about how SB 1383 will impact school and community gardens, and I believe most of the effects will be positive. The law presents a great opportunity to start composting organic waste in gardens and educating students and community members about the environmental benefits. Businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants may be more likely to donate organics for composting because they can no longer throw them in the dumpster. Free compost may be more readily available because each jurisdiction is required to procure a certain amount of compost for use in the community. The infrastructure developed for edible food recovery should make it easier for gardens to share excess produce. I look forward to seeing how school and community gardens contribute to future composting, recycling, and recovery efforts.
Do you want to learn more about SB 1383? The UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino is offering two opportunities. The first is a brief overview presentation during the School and Community Gardening Collaborative Workshop on Saturday, January 29th, starting at 9 am. The workshop will be presented live on Zoom, and the presentation videos will be uploaded to the UCCE San Bernardino YouTube channel. The second opportunity is a longer Zoom class on February 11th at 3 pm. You can register for the workshop and the class on the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino website under Classes & Events.
As a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and UC ANR employee, I am fortunate to have many opportunities to partner with amazing farmers, gardeners, and educators. I am particularly in awe of educators who fully integrate outdoor spaces into their teaching. One of these educators is Jackie Lacey, the Environmental Education Resource Teacher at Kimbark Elementary School. She teaches a combination of Next Generation Science Standards and environmental concepts to all classes from TK (transitional kindergarten) through sixth grade. Jackie has been in her current position for 12 years and teaching at Kimbark for 26 years. Even after all this time, she maintains her enthusiasm for creating engaging, hands-on projects for her students.
Kimbark Elementary is a Technology and Environmental Science Magnet School in the rural community of Devore, about 12 miles northwest of downtown San Bernardino. When I visited the school in early November, the expansive grounds were still green and shaded by a variety of mature trees. The school has drought-tolerant, vegetable, and native plant gardens, and Jackie's classroom is home to a menagerie of animals including fish, snakes, a rabbit, and a tortoise. No wonder the students think Jackie's the “fun teacher”!
When I asked Jackie how she approaches environmental education, she said she uses a conservationist approach. She wants students to go out and experience nature while remembering to conserve resources for future generations. To inspire a love for nature, Jackie takes her students outside as much as possible. She summed it up this way: “I feel like the best way for kids to learn about the environment is by getting out there and getting dirty.”
At Halloween time, her students created “trash-o-lanterns” by filling pumpkins grown in the vegetable garden with trash and burying them in the ground. Around Earth Day in April, they'll dig them up to see what happens. Pumpkins and other organic materials will decompose while plastics and inorganic materials will remain intact. Jackie believes this type of experiential learning will help her students understand the importance of recycling. She wants kids to know they have the power to make changes and choices every day.
Continuing the recycling theme, Jackie created a “trash graph” with the kindergarten classes. She gave the students gloves and helped them pick up all the trash on the playground. Back in the classroom, they dumped the trash on the floor and sorted it into categories including masks, plastic bottles, food wrappers, and pencils. Then they tallied the number of items in each category and made a bar graph. The students discovered that the categories with the largest number of items were wrappers and masks. Jackie used this as a teachable moment to discuss how waste is damaging the environment and how it can be recycled.
Jackie loves using the garden to teach. It's not just about planting, maintaining, pulling weeds, and watering. It's about becoming an investigator. When Jackie and her students go out in the garden, they look for signs of animal habitat and talk about life cycles and food chains. The pumpkin patch is a great place to observe the life cycle of a plant from seed to vine to blossom to pumpkin and back to seed. The students even found a black widow spider living in a pumpkin and preying on insects—an example of a food chain.
Jackie uses produce grown in the garden as the basis for nutrition and cooking lessons, such as making bread from zucchini or salsa from tomatoes and peppers. These lessons give her students the chance to try new foods, and they are more likely to eat foods they've helped grow.
When I asked Jackie how she includes the animals in her classroom in her teaching, she replied that she uses them to talk about the different types of animals and their adaptations. She noted, “There's nothing better to teach about reptiles than to bring out one of the snakes or to go hang out in the back area with our tortoise.” The students examine the underside of a snake and learn how its scales help it slither along the ground. They discuss the functions of the fur and claws of a rabbit and the fins and gills of a fish. Many students have never had pets at home; so caring for animals in the classroom teaches them responsibility and respect for living creatures.
What Jackie likes most about her job is working with all students in the school continually over the years. She says that every day is completely different, and she never knows what's going to happen. While she has set lesson plans, she's always willing to change them to accommodate the students and the circumstances. In the time of COVID-19, Jackie especially enjoys spending time outdoors with the kids, watching them run around and have fun.
The San Bernardino Master Gardeners are collaborating with Jackie and Kimbark Elementary to design a portion of the native plant garden and rehabilitate the vegetable garden beds with gopher-proofing, soil, and compost. By partnering with UCCE San Bernardino, Jackie hopes to gain knowledge and improve her program by asking questions, sharing ideas, and watching Master Gardeners at work.
To learn more about the Kimbark's Environmental Education Program, I invite you to attend the upcoming virtual School and Community Garden Collaborative Workshop on Saturday, January 29, from 9 to 11:30 am. Jackie will give a presentation about “Engaging 21st Century Students with Environmental Education”. We will have a great lineup of speakers followed by a breakout session to share feedback and resources. Register on the Master Gardener website using this link. Start the new year with fresh ideas and inspiration from your fellow gardeners!