Category Archives: Contact with nature

Invitation to make a difference in lives of kids

Amoyiea MyersWith this holiday season upon us, I am writing to ask you to consider making a gift to the Vegetable Project. It’s as easy as clicking here to initiate an online payment.

The Vegetable Project has been working to create hands-on teaching and learning opportunities in Albany schools since 2009. With your help, we will make touching and tasting and really doing a bigger part of students’ learning experience. We will bring more students aboard as members of our teaching team. We will develop an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School. We will make a difference in the lives of students who are not thriving in the main school program.

With gardens at Myers Middle School and Albany High School, we lead kids outdoors to drop seeds in soil and to pull carrots and garlic out, to leave science class recitation about producers, consumers and decomposers behind as we introduce them to the real things, and to capture nature’s power to build equanimity. With produce from those gardens and sometimes just a bit of seasoning and other times real kitchen experiences, we overcome resistance to trying unfamiliar tastes. And with constraints that come with a locale that has four seasons, we build teaching and learning opportunities around hardy plants that make it through cold months in simple greenhouses and tender plants that grow under indoor lighting.

The Vegetable Project, led entirely by volunteers, does all of this and more in classrooms, after school and through paid employment of teens, during the school year and over the summer. And it does this with a particular focus on students with the great challenges in their lives, who typically pose the greatest challenges at school, who would benefit most from touching, tasting, doing and having more contact with nature.

Please learn more about the Vegetable Project at http://vegetableproject.org and https://www.facebook.com/vegetableproject. Please support our work to build hands-on teaching and learning opportunities, to reach more kids and to create an outdoor classroom at Myers that will make taking classes outside occasionally an irresistible option for teachers.

We are a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, making your contributions deductible to the extent allowable based on your specific circumstances.

Thanks very much and Happy Holidays!

–Bill Stoneman

Why build outdoor classroom at Albany school (#2)?

TurtleNot that taking care of a vegetable garden and creating hands-on teaching and learning opportunities in isn’t enough to do, the Vegetable Project seeks to develop an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School. But why? Why would we stay up nights thinking about taking on more? The garden beds already saddle us with those time-consuming fundraising initiatives, like soliciting Boxtops for Education, and those time-consuming chores in the garden, like weeding and watering. Why isn’t that enough? And why in the world would we harbor thoughts about taking lessons learned tackling an ambitious project at one school to others around town?

Well, the Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program identifies a few benefits (and we explore those big Why questions additional when we can). The program says in its Planning Guide that an outdoor classroom

  • provides an alternative classroom setting
  • includes learning stations for hands-on activities
  • introduces students to nature and the outdoors
  • provides multi-disciplinary teaching/learning opportunities
  • increases local community and business support for the school
  • increases parent involvement in the school
  • establishes habitat for local wildlife
  • helps beautify the campus
  • provides teaching/learning opportunities about wildlife and related natural resources
  • engages students in active, hands-on/minds-on learning
  • provides real-world experiences in a living laboratory
  • creates fun and exciting learning environments
  • helps connect students to their environments and communities
  • makes learning locally relevant
  • enhances biodiversity
  • helps teachers and administrators reach out to at-risk students
  • offers alternative teaching strategies for learning-disabled students
  • provides service-learning projects for students
  • develops a sense of stewardship in our children for the Earth’s natural resources
  • provides opportunities for students to work as a team
  • demonstrates to students that they can make a difference
  • helps combat childhood obesity
  • teaches responsibility
  • provides an alternative to costly field trips
  • excites educators about teaching
  • and motivates students about learning.

That actually is a pretty long list of benefits. We, however, completely agree.

—Bill Stoneman

An opportunity to support connection with nature

Bench1An outdoor classroom needs a place for students to sit. And with your help, the Vegetable Project intends to provide such seating at Myers Middle School. Won’t you consider contributing to this important project? For a gift of $250, we’ll affix a plaque to a bench near the Myers garden with your personalized inscription, creating a lasting tribute in a space that will be used by Continue reading

Myers student captures Garden Club vibe in logo

Logo Myers Garden ClubwinnerWith great thanks to Justin Whittle, who just completed eighth grade at and graduated from Myers Middle School, and Myers visual arts teacher Michelle Patka, we are pleased to present a new logo for the Myers Garden Club. Justin’s design, which reflects the spirit of our after-school and summer-time gathering just about perfectly, creates wonderful new opportunities to get word out about our longest-standing gardening-with-kids initiative. And we are delighted. Launched in the fall of 2010, the Vegetable Project’s Garden Club gets Myers students outside and into a bit of nature throughout the year, gently encourages getting hands dirty in our garden, introduces the taste of really fresh greens and so much more that contributes to wellbeing. We know anecdotally and research confirms that these are effective Continue reading

Soil wildlife grabs hold of students’ attention

common-house-spider-2We were digging in the dirt the other day when a student shrieked, “A SPIDER,” and then offered to kill it with a handy shovel. We do not encourage chasing down spiders or any other living creatures with a shovel. In fact, quite the opposite.

We talk at every opportunity about the value of spiders, worms and other Continue reading

Strawberries as a tool for teaching and learning

Strawberries June 3The handful of strawberry plants that we brought to Myers Middle School a few years ago spread like wildfire for some time. But then, for reasons we never figured out, they died way back the last two years. They did not produce berries and they did not produce the runners that start new plants.

Fortunately, things are looking much better this spring. Plants look healthy. Continue reading

For some, taking classes outdoors an act of faith

6-2016, Bill Stoneman, Albany school gardensConsiderable research suggests that contact with nature can ease stress, help keep attention where it belongs and sooth emotional pain. A particularly notable paper, published earlier this year, reported on students focusing better in a standard indoor classroom after a lesson taught outdoors than after a lesson in the standard classroom. Insights in these findings could be really important in schools where we work.

And so we develop ideas that would take classes outside, if only for a single class period, and pitch them to teachers. We think that putting teaching and learning in an outdoor setting occasionally could help with the social and emotional underpinnings to successful classroom outcomes. And we would posit that social and emotional needs often pose the biggest issues for students who disrupt and then fail classes with a resounding thud.

Problem is, taking a class outside, with really energetic students, who generally ignore boundaries, feels like a risky proposition to many teachers. And understandably so. It takes some faith to believe that even the most challenging students could become easier to work with after a turn or two or three, even if things look even worse initially.

Maybe it’s too easy for outsiders like us, without direct responsibility for students’ conduct and test scores, to say that it will work. But we still would encourage a couple of thoughts. One is that research, while hardly definitive, paints a compelling picture of the good that seems to come from contact with nature. Another is that command and control efforts in traditional classrooms are not especially successful with the most challenging students.

–Bill Stoneman

Catching student attention with delightful surprise

Pea shootsWe can do something in and around the garden that does not happen in the classroom often enough: capture attention with a moment of pleasant surprise. Take, for example, what happens when we offer a taste of leaves and stems from a live plant.

Some students, of course, cheerfully pop the greens in their mouths. Many Continue reading

Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project? (#4)

April 21 Isaiah JamesWhat exactly drives us to build gardens at Albany schools and then lead kids out to them? Why would we bother with those time-consuming fundraising initiatives, like Boxtops for Education, and those time-consuming chores in the garden, like weeding and watering? And what is the big deal about growing some of our own lettuce and tomatoes, when it’s so cheap in the supermarket?

Please see our first take at answering these questions and then another and then still one more. And here is another try.

Vegetables can be a tough sell, at least when alternatives full of sugar, salt and fat Continue reading

Buying seeds supports the Vegetable Project

High Mowing seed packsContributing to the Vegetable Project is as easy as buying High Mowing Organic Seeds from us from now until Tuesday, March 20.

You can view our offering and place orders online, through farmraiser.com, which supports fundraisers built around healthy eating and local products.

Or if you would rather do business on paper, maybe so you can invite friends and family to go in on an order with you, that’s okay, too. Please click here for a printable brochure describing what we are offering. And then print an order form. Please get orders to us, with cash or a check, by Friday, March 16, so we can complete necessary handling.

Either way, the Vegetable Project receives half of all sales in our eighth annual seed sale fundraiser. You will have your seeds in time for the coming season’s planting. And you will be supporting our four-season growing and our work to create hands-on teaching and learning opportunities in Albany schools, by providing us with funds for supplies, tools and equipment.

And rather donate the full cost of seeds or more? That’s okay, too. Just click on the Donate button at our web site to make an online contribution.

High Mowing’s seeds are organic and free of genetically modified organisms, which we think is important. And based in Vermont, many of its seeds were raised in the Northeast, meaning they’re especially suited to thrive in the kind of conditions that have.

The Vegetable Project reaches out especially to kids with the greatest needs. These are kids in Albany schools who are challenging and disruptive, who do not respond well to admonitions like “sit still in your chair” and “look up at the board.” We garden, prepare tasty dishes with what we grow and teach about scientific method. But most of all we engage kids. Working at two Albany schools so far, we have four programs: a year-round after-school Garden Club at Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School, development and assistance with plant-related classroom activities and curriculum at both Myers Middle School and Albany High School, a paid garden assistant internship mentoring program for at-risk students at Albany High and a work site for a city summer jobs program that gives high school-age students a first exposure to employment.

In addition, we are building development plans for an outdoor classroom at our middle school home, with a greenhouse, a shaded sitting area, a fruit tree orchard and naturalized space where science classes would conduct meaningful scientific investigations. The completed space should be as irresistible to art or history teachers as it is to science teachers, thus increasing kids’ time outdoors in fresh air and amid greenery, which research shows supports wide ranging healthy outcomes.

Happy gardening. And please help us spread word about this great offer.

–Bill Stoneman