Thrive Outside offered because kids do exactly that

Thrive Outside, a Vegetable Project initiative offering teachers at Myers Middle School an opportunity to test drive outdoor instruction, launched yesterday, Monday, May 4. The idea is to give educators a chance to learn how teaching outdoors would feel, with the hope that we’ll get rave reviews that will build momentum for the outdoor classroom idea we’ve been jabbering about for years. We’ll see.

But understand, we know from our own experience and from the work of many important thinkers, that children, no, make that people, Thrive Outside. Harnessing the power of exposure to nature will yield positive education results and positive life outcomes, and especially for kids with the greatest challenges in their lives.

It feels good to get to this point, where we have installed rented event tents at the school and have recruited a team of volunteers to show classes around our garden, start seeds with kids and otherwise support teachers who may want a hand in whatever they’ll do. We are thrilled that Principal Bill Rivers, who just came to Myers back in September, has arranged to keep the tents that we brought in until graduation in June, thus providing so many more opportunities for teachers to give teaching outdoors a try. But surely we have work ahead in making the case that teaching and Continue reading

Safety outdoors shows way to in-person instruction

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the medical science community is surer than ever that the safest place to gather with other people is outdoors, The Washington Post reported last week. This understanding should be shaping life in public schools by now, but mostly isn’t.

Schools are going to heroic lengths to resume in-person instruction, with social distancing built into classroom occupancy planning, contact tracing protocols, diligent surface scrubbing and face covering requirements. Still, they’re mostly missing the forest for the trees, failing to even consider the safest way to move away from computer-based instruction – holding classes outside when possible.

We at the Vegetable Project called for such use of the great outdoors before we ever knew the word coronavirus. And we expect to be encouraging it long after the last vaccine is administered. Contact with nature contributes mightily to the emotional and physical heath that our students and educators need to perform well.

It’s just more urgent now than ever before.

–Bill Stoneman

Doing our small part to give the world more gardens

“We founded our company on the premise that gardens change lives,” the folks at Gardeners Supply, a Vermont-based seller of cool garden paraphernalia says at its website these days. “They nourish the body, elevate the spirit, and build community. More than ever, after a year of incredible suffering and hardship caused by Covid-19, the world needs more gardens.” 

O, we at the Vegetable Project do so agree. And though we cannot match the eloquence of these words with our own, we might humbly add that nourishing the body, elevating the spirit and building community would go a long way in schools where we work, maybe even farther than half the official learning standards combined take most students.

The Vegetable Project’s mission is to create hands-on learning opportunities for Albany children, and especially children with great needs, by building gardens, growing plants and harnessing the power of exposure to nature. In other words, we organized our nonprofit around the premise that gardens change lives.

Please c’mon and visit us at Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School and Albany High School and learn more about what we do.

–Bill Stoneman

Early glimmers of reward for faith appear in garden

There are easier ways to put food on the table than growing your own fruits and vegetables, not to mention threshing your own grain to make your own bread. Shopping in a supermarket comes to mind. The hands-on learning opportunities, however, that come with doing and touching and tasting and experiencing in the garden seem well worth the effort to the folks behind the Vegetable Project.

Enough so that a few of the hardier souls were out on snowy days in early February putting seeds in the soil. It must have taken some faith to believe that that made Continue reading

Igniting curiosity among students not always seen

Outdoor instruction will go mainstream in public K-12 schools. And when it does, such as when one teacher says “we can do an algebra lesson under a tree” and another says “real trees and vistas might actually be a good thing for an American history lesson,” there will be no turning back. At least if what Brooke Teller said on CBS Sunday Morning the other day is correct.

Teller, who was named coordinator of outdoor instruction with Portland (Maine) Public Schools last summer, said that outdoor learning “ignites a curiosity in students that we don’t necessarily see when they are confined between four walls at home or in a classroom.”

It’s hard to imagine getting better than that! So kudos to the Portland school district, which didn’t wait for the Continue reading

Outdoor instruction important for mental health

Educators are gravely concerned these days, and rightly so, that social isolation, meant to slow the spread of a deadly disease, is taking a toll on the mental health of kids across the country. An Internet search for words like “mental health students pandemic” provides a sense of the broad conversation inside schools about addressing the concerning situation.

We largely find advice that talks about identifying kids having difficulty and then connecting them with professional resources. We see and hear much less, however, about an entirely different path that an online search for “mental health nature” reveals. And that is worrisome. Because academic research linking mental health to contact with nature has been piling up for years.

As a 2018 blog post from Harvard Medical School says, “Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has Continue reading

Offering garden bed sponsorship opportunities

The Vegetable Project, which digs in the dirt with Albany High School and Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School students, would be pleased to showcase the names of friends who help make its research-based work with Albany students possible. We will mount a handsome sign on 2-by-10 sides of our raised garden beds at both of our school locations in Continue reading

Bringing education outdoors for sake of equity

Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to take vacations now and then, but not all of us. And many of us often head on those vacations for the beach, or the mountains or maybe one of our great national parks, though these places aren’t accessible to Continue reading

Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project? (#7)

What exactly drives us to build gardens at Albany schools and then lead kids out to them?

It is the Vegetable Project’s mission to create hands-on learning opportunities for children in Albany, and especially children with great needs, by building gardens, growing plants and harnessing the power of exposure to nature. But why?

We strive to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged kids in our community who struggle academically and Continue reading

Why do we work so hard to get kids outside (#4)?

“Individuals who visit natural spaces weekly, and feel psychologically connected to them, report better physical and mental wellbeing, new research has shown,” according to a news release issued by the University of Plymouth in England, where the report’s lead author is based. If you spend time in schools where academic performance measurements are troubling, the findings, published in the British Journal of Environmental Psychology, just might feel very relevant.

We at the Vegetable Project talk about getting kids outdoors, in January Continue reading