Category Archives: Teaching

Gardening — and lessons about the world

“Gardening isn’t about plants,” says Alys Fowler in a recent essay in the British newspaper The Guardian. “It’s about everything else: the soil, the insects, the birds, mammals and reptiles, and how you sit in this world. The plants are the final flourish, the gift of reciprocity from all the others.”

We could not make a better case for building gardens at schools and Continue reading

A busy couple of days for Vegetable Project team

Culinary students at Albany High School’s Abrookin Career and Technical Center sampled sampled beans, cucumbers, peppers a host of herbs at our Albany High garden on Thursday of last week and took back to the classroom armloads of corn, a few potatoes, green onions, Swiss chard and more. More than 100 students in five family and consumer science classes took in the Myers Middle School garden on Monday, where juicy red tomatoes were the big attraction. On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of tasting dishes in the Abrookin classroom kitchen that included our potatoes and chard.

It has been a busy few days! And with a new school year upon us and a bit stronger sense of how to work with students safely, we are just getting going! It is our mission 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.

So that means our longstanding afterschool Garden Club gets started at Myers next week. We’re joining with other members of the Albany Kids Garden Network in inviting you to visit our gardens on Saturday, Sept. 25. We’re planning to plant flower bulbs at a couple of Albany schools beyond our home bases. We’re looking forward tapping maple trees again in the winter and with schools that are beyond our usual connections. And we’re reaching out to teachers to kick around ideas for doing and touching and tasting and experiencing.

More than all of that, we intend in the weeks ahead to support Myers teachers in moving instruction outdoors occasionally, under beautiful tents the building leadership arranged to be placed at the school. And we are building our team to build on each of these initiatives – and spread word that contact with nature contributes enormously to wellbeing and thus fosters academic performance.

Of course, we cannot do this vital work without support from our friends in the community. Please know there are many ways to contribute to or participate in our efforts, ranging from digging in the dirt with kids to wearing our threads to saying kind words about us to people with influence to arranging automated monthly monetary contributions.

–Bill Stoneman

Winning over audience sometimes takes time

Sometimes the intended audience for what someone thinks is a great idea does not jump immediately with delight. The first week of school in Albany provides two examples, one involving an offer of luscious vine-ripened tomatoes and the other an offer of an opportunity to move some instruction outdoors.

Neither was embraced with the enthusiasm that we thought would be almost automatic. Perhaps we forgot some of lessons we have learned slowly over the years of digging in the dirt with Albany kids and talking with paid educators about what the Vegetable Project is about. Really, we know from experience that neither group can be rushed into something unfamiliar. And we know that our own enthusiasm can feel more like pressure to the intended audience, which definitely does not help.

So we stumbled. But, with ongoing encouragement of friends in the community who say our ideas make some Continue reading

Friends in community make what we do possible

The Vegetable Project has an important message for some really great friends:

THANK YOU!

We are so grateful for quite a number of generous contributions that we have received in recent months. And we are long overdue in sharing word of each with everyone who follows our efforts to build a bit of doing and touching and tasting and experiencing into teaching and learning in Albany.

The Whitehall Neighborhood Association, led by Robert Murphy, is the Vegetable Project’s 2021 Growing Season Sponsor. The Growing Season Sponsorship, a key piece in the Vegetable Project’s financial and programming puzzle each year, provides vital wherewithal for the breadth of our undertakings, including planting and maintaining gardens at two schools, classroom projects and youth mentoring activities.

Albany Medical College was the principal sponsor of Thrive Outside, the test drive of outdoor instruction that we offered to Myers Middle School teachers in May. With kind support from the college (beyond an already extensive partnership), we were able to place shelter in the form of two substantial tents at Myers during the two-week event, which we organized to advance our bid to develop an outdoor classroom at the middle school. The long-term plan includes a shaded sitting area – perhaps Continue reading

Make a statement planting flower bulbs

Plan ahead! The days will get shorter. And colder. Winter happens. Spring never comes as quickly as we’d like around here. Planting flower bulbs, however, gives us a great reason to stay outside and keep getting our hands dirty in autumn’s chill. It is a great way to add spring color to your garden. And it does even more than that when you buy the bulbs in our Flower Power Fundraiser now through Oct. 15. 

The Vegetable Project receives half of all proceeds raised by our sale of bulbs. And that means that you contribute to our program to create hands-on learning opportunities for Albany kids when you buy bulbs. It means you support our work teaching kids where their food comes from. It means that you support outdoor instruction. More than all of that, your purchase and your planting makes a statement that we can make a difference with kids who deserve teaching and learning that builds on doing and touching and tasting and experiencing.

Please click here to see the selection and place your order: http://vegetableproject.fpfundraising.com.

Native plant garden intended as teaching tool

We installed a native perennial garden at Albany High School in June, right next to our vegetable garden. We hope it will be seen by the school district’s curriculum and instruction mandarins as a useful teaching tool.

We believe that a walking field trip to our garden would pique student interest in how ecosystems function and help students understand why the National Audubon Society calls native plants – plants that grew naturally in a part of the world before we started thinking about moving things from continent to another 531 years ago – “the ecological basis upon which life depends, including birds and people.”

We would wager that students would get why Cornell ornithologist Ken Rosenberg, who led a study showing that the North American bird population has declined 30 percent since 1970, sees big problems ahead in the ecosystems that sustain us.

“We’re talking about pest control, we’re talking about pollination [and] seed dispersal,” Rosenberg says.

A rough idea of how native plants contribute to functioning ecosystems won’t be sufficient to address all the world’s environmental challenges. But it certainly is necessary. And learning definitely works better with real close-up engagement than it does in the passive and static classroom.

Thus, we invite teachers to bring classes to this garden of native plants in the fall to observe the insects and birds and other small animals that look to native plants, but not exotic ornamentals from distant locales, for shelter or food. We would be happy to support science teachers who want to bone up on the importance of native plants to healthy ecosystems.

We are confident that critically thinking high school students can grasp the connection between stressed environments and plummeting North American bird populations in the last 50 years. And we surely think that students ought to have the opportunity to explore environmental issues out in a more natural environment than an indoor classroom.

Many thanks to Dawn Foglia of Dawn’s Wildthings Rescue Nursery in Pittstown, Rensselaer County, for guidance in plant selection for this garden.

Many opportunities to pitch in, make a difference

It takes a village, as the saying goes, to create opportunities for Albany kids for doing and touching and tasting and experiencing. That means we offer many opportunities for you to pitch in and opportunities for you to make a difference, with others or alone and with and without kids. Here are a few:
 
Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. at our Albany High School garden. Friends have been doing garden chores together for a couple of weeks now. And it would be great to have more company on June 16 and weeks beyond. We are extending a summer-long invitation to students to meet at this time as well, especially English-as-a-new-language students who have been getting hands dirty in the garden during classes their classes for several weeks.
 
Thursday, June 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. at our Myers Middle School garden. Our long-running after-school Garden Club, on hold for 14 months, started up again just in time to meet three times before the school year ends. This will be the final after-school get-together until September. three weeks ago.
 
Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at our Myers garden, throughout the summer, starting on June 22. We’ll communicate to kids that this is a summertime extension of our after-school Garden Club. Whether we attract many or few, it’s a great opportunity for friends to work together to ensure that the garden is ready for students when school opens in September.
 
Watering and weeding and completion of other garden chores independently at both locations, today through mid-October. We’ll create an online schedule and get back with more information. 
 
Many thanks to many of you for years of support. Please stay tuned for more.
 
–Bill Stoneman

Educational opportunities planted in new garden

We – the Vegetable Project and two groups of high school students – installed a perennial garden adjacent to our vegetable patch at Albany High on Saturday. With support from Albany Medical College, kids in Albany High English-as-a-new-language teacher Mary Carroll’s classes and participants in a medical college-sponsored STEP (Science and Technology Entry Program) group joined us. We think the heavily used but unmarked North Main Avenue entranceway to Albany High will look a bit more welcoming as our plants grow. And we had a blast!

But far more important than having fun or sprucing up the appearance of what serves these days as the high school’s main gateway, we created opportunities for doing and touching and tasting and experiencing and we placed what we hope will be seen as a useful teaching tool at the disposal of educators.

The particular selection of perennials forms the teaching tool. Everything we planted is native to this part of the world, meaning the plants were here before a certain voyage propelled the idea that we humans could move plants from one continent to another. Five hundred twenty-nine years later, understanding is growing that our choices about what we plant at our homes and schools and parks can contribute to or work against the health of our environment. And that’s pretty important at a time when the climate is changing, species are vanishing and development adds stress to our store of natural resources.

Our schools use biology textbooks that explain the fundamental role of ecosystems and food webs in our living environment. The texts are not so clear, however, about how vital relationships between living things, or the number of birds we might see in our backyards, are disrupted by importation of non-native plants from one far-flung place to another.

We might suggest that responsible custodians of the only planet we have should be thinking about native plants and that educational institutions have a particular responsibility for this. We would be pleased if our new garden, where we have placed red chokecherry, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, bearded tongue, native hibiscus, Joe Pye weed, false aster, blue sage and coreopsis, offer some opportunity for conversation.

Many thanks to Dawn Foglia of Dawn’s Wildthings Rescue Nursery in Pittstown, Rensselaer County, for guidance in plant selection.

–Bill Stoneman

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