- Author: Deborah Schnur
As the seasons change, I'm excited to plant my fall garden and start my new part-time position as the Environmental Education Coordinator for UCCE San Bernardino County. I'll be working an average of eight hours a week, reporting to Maggie O'Neill, our amazing Master Gardener Coordinator. Working together, our aim is to expand our reach to the public and provide greater support for Master Gardeners. One of my first duties is launching this blog to keep you informed of our environmental education activities. Since San Bernardino is the largest county by area in the United States, I'll need your help to get up to speed on what's happening in our school gardens. Please don't be shy about reaching out to me for assistance with your projects!
Another one of my responsibilities is to facilitate the connection between Master Gardeners and school gardens. I will support Master Gardeners to help set up or revitalize gardens, work with teachers to help develop student garden education, teach gardening classes to parent groups and teachers, provide technical assistance to garden caretakers, and connect schools with local community gardens and food systems.
I also plan to develop a toolkit of practices and procedures for Master Gardeners to follow when providing environmental education for K-12 classrooms. The toolkit, which will be posted in VMS, will include curriculum links, learning modules, hands-on training examples, and more. The main role of Master Gardeners in school environmental education is to “train the trainer”—train teachers to work directly with students. To complement this effort, I will develop web pages containing resources for school garden management specifically for K-12 administrators, teachers, and staff. These pages will be added to the UCCE San Bernardino County and Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County websites.
You may have already noticed some upgrades to our Master Gardener website. Maggie and I have been updating, adding, and reorganizing content to make the site more user-friendly and share more research-based information with the public. To start, we added two new items to the left-hand navigation menu: Newsletters and Recent Presentations. Visitors to our website can now easily view and download our monthly newsletters and our latest online class presentations. In the near future, we plan to add a link to request help with school gardens. We welcome your ideas for additional improvements.
Now that I've given you a brief overview of my initial assignments, I'd like to introduce myself. I moved to southern California from Minnesota two years ago and completed my Master Gardener training in March 2021. I grew up on Long Island in a suburb of New York City, where my parents devoted much time and attention to gardening and landscaping. That's where my interest in gardening began. Moving around the country, I took my love of plants with me to Chicago, Phoenix, back to Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, back to Minneapolis, and finally to California. I even lived in Thailand for a year. I guess you can say I'm a nomad at heart.
Long story short, I began my career in biomedical engineering, transitioned to mechanical engineering, and made a major pivot to public health about 5 years ago. After graduating with a Master of Public Health from the University of Minnesota, I moved to California to be closer to my daughter, escape the Minnesota winters, and serve with FoodCorps (part of the AmeriCorps network) at Phelan Elementary School for the 2019-2020 school year.
At Phelan Elementary, I experienced firsthand the transformational power that gardening and nutrition education can have on an entire school community. With help from over 75 volunteers including teachers, staff, students, and families, the Phelan community transformed the school garden and greenhouse from a field of weeds to a place of pride. Over the fall and winter, we grew broccoli, cauliflower cabbage, carrots, radishes, onions, lettuce, spinach, kale, and herbs. As the months passed, more and more students came to explore the garden during recess. Teachers requested space to conduct experiments. Students joined the after-school Sprout Scouts garden club. Parents and high school students pitched in to maintain the garden and help with lessons.
The first lesson I taught was “Garden Explorations”, which included a garden hunt matching game. I remember the joy on the kids' faces as they raced around with their partners, searching for items in the garden that corresponded to the pictures on their cards. As an outdoor classroom, school gardens can instill appreciation and respect for nature, improve social skills and teamwork, and literally bring academic concepts to life.
School gardens and nutrition education can also positively impact kids' eating habits. Phelan students eagerly awaited the monthly cafeteria taste tests where they were able to try a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (sometimes for the first time) and vote for their favorites. Older students who served as Cafeteria Captains assisted with taste tests by handing out food samples, making announcements, and tallying votes.
Another incentive to promote healthier food choices was the Taste Bud Ticket program. At the start of every lunch period, I announced the color of the day based on the food served in the cafeteria. (All students in the district were eligible for free lunch.) Then I distributed taste bud tickets to students eating healthy foods of that color. Before heading out to the playground, students wrote their names on the tickets and dropped them in a box. At the end of the week, I drew two tickets from the box and invited the winners to arrange time in the garden with a friend. Nearly all the winners took advantage of this opportunity and brought more than one friend!
Now that schools have returned to in-person learning, I'm excited to begin working with school employees and Master Gardeners to create environmental and gardening education programs and resources. If you need assistance, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy fall gardening!