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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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.
“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.
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 →
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 →
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.
The Vegetable Project in Albany, N.Y., established in 2009, creates hands-on learning opportunities that involve science, the environment, entrepreneurship, tasting really fresh food and responsibility for care of living things by growing vegetables and other plants.