Category Archives: Uncategorized

Outdoor classroom for its educational value

Imagine a middle school where teachers can offer classes a change of scenery, and especially a change that will bolster seriously valuable contact with nature. And imagine a school where a greenhouse, with space for visiting classes to work, is warm enough in January to nurture slow growth of leafy green vegetables. Where a fruit tree orchard beckons. And where bird, mammal and insect habitat transform science lessons into close-up encounters.

With confidence that doing and touching and tasting and experiencing can energize students and teachers alike, that these simple acts can stimulate hunger for learning like little else, the Vegetable Project proposes development of these and other schoolyard amenities at Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School. The proposal rests on the ideas that enriching whole-person teaching and learning is essential to unlocking the potential of Albany students, that test-prep focused teaching can only go so far and that the need for something different is urgent in a school district where just 28 percent of third through eighth graders are judged proficient in English and math, based on state tests. An enormous thanks go to landscape architects Liz Podowski King of Highland Planning and Mary Moore Wallinger of LAndArt Studio for their extraordinary vision of how space around the Vegetable Project’s garden at Myers could become a place for endless outdoor teaching and learning.

We have written about the educational value of outdoor instruction and an outdoor classroom occasionally over the years. And after watching the no-win quandary of in-person vs. remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, we would argue that building contact with nature into teaching and learning is more important now than ever. And we would add that the completed outdoor classroom project at Myers will lift spirits. It will promote teacher and student wellbeing. It will build equity. It will pave the way for similar initiatives elsewhere in Albany. It will captivate the parents who think the grass is greener on the other side of the city-suburb line. And it will draw interest of educators from miles around.

Really bringing this idea to life, however, will be daunting. Making great use of such an outdoor classroom amenity will require a huge shift in thinking by educators, maybe a journey, or even a bit of a cultural revolution, for those who think of classroom management in command-and-control terms more than the result of inspiration and engagement. That said, we know that it will be a rewarding journey of epic proportions.

–Bill Stoneman

Help with watering would make big contribution

Want to lend a hand in the Vegetable Project’s gardens on your own schedule? Won’t you please consider helping to water at Albany High School and/or Myers Middle School from now until early October. Claim a week. Or maybe a day of the week for the summer. Or days that work for you. Either way, you’ll make a big difference in this volunteer group’s ability to head into the new school year with gardens teaming with teaching and learning opportunities.

Please reach out at [email protected] to arrange a garden walkaround and to learn the ropes with one of our veterans. Or go ahead sign up for days at Albany High here and at Myers here. We will get in touch and plan to meet you to get you started. We won’t leave you alone until you are ready. But please understand, the contribution only begins to make a difference as you start working independently and reliably.

Many thanks for 14 years of great support for our efforts.

–Bill Stoneman

Won’t want to miss Evening in the Garden

The Vegetable Project’s seventh annual Evening in the Garden will be at Myers Middle School this year, on Tuesday, May 7 (rain date the following day, Wednesday, May 8). We sure are looking forward to showing you what is growing, sharing with you about our work to create hands-on learning opportunities, offering a few hands-on learning opportunities right there and introducing you to knowledgeable growers who are eager to share their expertise.

And there won’t be another party like this one until the spring of 2025 – at New Scotland Elementary School.

If that doesn’t sound like enough, you’ll also enjoy the fabulous sounds of the Albany High School Jazz Ensemble and sample tastes of some of the best food around, provided by Albany High School’s Career and Technical Education culinary program, Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen, Bountiful Bread, Caffe Italia Ristorante, Cardona’s Market, the Copper Crow, Dove and Deer, Honest Weight Food Co-op and Nicole’s Catering.

The bash is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the garden behind the school building.

We would be pleased if you would let us know that you are coming at Eventbrite or our Facebook event.

We would be grateful if you would stand up and be counted as a friend of our efforts to build teaching and learning around doing and touching and tasting and experiencing by becoming a member of the event’s honorary committee. We will include your name in an event program when you make a $25 contribution. Again, please visit Eventbrite.

–Bill Stoneman

Teaching and learning around endless plant lifecycle

Myers Middle School students scooped seeds from freshly plucked tomatoes last fall as we began another year of our afterschool Garden Club at the school. We followed instructions to ferment the seeds, dry them and then store them. Then, months later, a certain Vegetable Project volunteer dropped a handful of those seeds in a small container of potting mix and sat tight for nine days. Then, voila! Twenty or so tiny tomato plants pictured here.

It is so easy to germinate tomato seeds that this is almost cheating. But we have here the faint Continue reading

Kids won’t remember their best day of YouTube

“We believe that nature makes kids healthier, happier and smarter.”

The words appear on page after page at the website of the Children & Nature Network, a national advocate for getting children out into nature. And though that does capture the essence of the organization’s driving purpose,the organization Continue reading

Telling it like it is about wood shop teacher

If you enter our shed at our Albany High School garden and look up and to the left, you’ll see a few remarks that the structure’s student builders left for the eventual users. Though the shed was essentially completed in June 2022, we’re just moving in now, 20 months later, and thus just noticing what the proud students wanted us to know.

And what a pleasure it is to see one saying that Art Erbe, who leads Albany High School’s construction technology program, “is the best teacher” and thanking him for being the writer’s teacher for three years. We would certainly add Continue reading

Buying seeds supports Vegetable Project work

Make this the year that you start your own garden, maybe fill a couple of planters on the front porch, or perhaps add a few square feet to that special space – for the beauty you’ll create, for the hope you’ll inspire and for the stewardship of the environment that we share. And please support the Vegetable Project when you do by buying High Mowing Organic Seeds from us from now until Friday, March 29.

Please click here for a printable list of our offering brochure and order form, or here for faster loading, invite a few friends to take a look with you and push those winter blues away with visions of warm spring Continue reading

Learning how to extend northern growing season

One of the great challenges of school gardening in upstate New York is the mismatch between the school calendar and common notions of when the growing season starts and ends. Students aren’t in classes in July when tomato vines look bigger from one day to the next. And January temperatures are not exactly conducive to dividing up perennials.

We at the Vegetable Project, however, are making headway in our bid to redefine the growing season, so that it synchs up with the school calendar a bit better than some would think possible. You might actually say that we’re working to turn the period that begins January and runs through December into growing season, though we don’t expect to be doing quite everything that the word “gardening” implies when the daylight is short and the temperatures fall below freezing.

One initiative involves learning to build and learning to use “season-extending” fixtures, like small hoop Continue reading

Learn about winter sowing; join VegProj initiative

Want to learn how to turn a plastic gallon milk jug into a miniature greenhouse? Would you consider volunteering with the Vegetable Project team as we bring a burst of heart-pounding activity  – widely known as winter sowing – to more than 20 Albany schools classes between late January and early March?

Please join us at one of the following three hour-long training sessions, strictly for your own enjoyment or to prepare to participate in our third annual tour of the school district, bringing more intensive Continue reading

Offering garden bed sponsorship opportunities

The Vegetable Project, which leads hundreds upon hundreds of Albany students in getting their hands dirty each year, invites its friends to show their support for the organization’s research-based efforts by sponsoring a garden bed for the 2024 growing season. With gardens at Albany High School and Stephen and Harriet Myers Middle School and a partnership with the Continue reading