Category Archives: Uncategorized

Won’t want to miss Evening in the Garden

The Vegetable Project’s sixth annual Evening in the Garden will be at Albany High School this year, on Tuesday, May 9 (rain date the following day, Wednesday, May 10). And 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 if that doesn’t sound like enough, you’ll enjoy the sounds of student musicians and to sample tastes from some of our favorite local restaurants and food businesses – Honest Weight Food Co-op, Cardona’s Market, Bountiful Bread, Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen and more.

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Many learning opportunities in classroom project

Arugula seeds placed in a miniature greenhouse at Albany High School in late February have germinated already. So, if nothing else, we learn that these are seeds that start in pretty cool weather. But about 500 individual creations into the 2023 edition of the Vegetable Project’s Milk Jug Miniature Greenhouse Project, we can confidently make a few other observations.

  • It is possible to get students outside, even in the winter, even if only to set finished products out where they belong.
  • Students are really energized by hands-on learning opportunities.
  • Teachers are also pretty excited by the commotion and mess that we bring into their classrooms.
  • We need to make some changes in how we orchestrate all of this before we commit to doing it again next year.

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Buying seeds supports Vegetable Project work

Start your own garden this year, 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 our environment you’ll provide. And please support the Vegetable Project when you do by buying High Mowing Organic Seeds from us from now until Friday, March 24.

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Vital link between gardening and wellbeing

Sue Stuart-Smith, an English psychiatrist, begins a long and thoughtful exploration of gardening’s amazing connection with human wellbeing with a story about her grandfather, whose brutal treatment as a Turkish prisoner during World War I left him a shell of the young man who joined the Royal Navy early in the war. So malnourished that he weighed just 80 pounds when he made his way back home, doctors said he likely only had a few months to live.

As Stuart-Smith tells it, her grandfather’s yearslong physical and mental recovery begins with a horticulture program that was organized with the “aim of rehabilitating ex-servicemen who had been damaged by the conflict.”

Stuart-Smith continues in her 2020 publication, The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, to cast gardening specifically and exposure to nature more generally in a central role in scores of stories that today we might say called for trauma-informed care – involving war, mental illness, social isolation, big American prisons and yes, even in urban schools serving poor communities (in England). Time and again, opportunities to spend time in soothing environments, to nurture living things and to work hands in soil seem to support troubled people in getting their feet on the ground.

“Over the course of evolution,” Stuart-Smith explains, “we have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world. This includes how much sunlight we get, the kind of microbes we are exposed to, the amount of green vegetation around us and the type of exercise we take.”

Reflecting the experience of a mental health professional and a physician steeped in the science of how the brain functions, Stuart-Smith is compelling when she writes, “One of the strongest findings in research across the last few decades has been the extent to which gardening boosts mood and self-esteem and helps alleviate depression and anxiety.”

At a time when people with professional interest in healthy development of children, from public school educators to the U.S. surgeon general, are expressing grave concern about childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety levels, Stuart-Smith offers urgently important insight. Our tiny school gardening program recognizes the value of getting kids outdoors. The local school district, which does occasionally talk about trauma-informed care? College and university teacher training programs? The state and federal education departments?

Well, not that we have noticed.

We have been waving around Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, every chance we get, trying to make the case that the school world would do itself an enormous favor by embracing its central tenet – that more exposure to nature would do so much good for people, and certainly including young people. Stuart-Smith’s work is the natural bookend to this masterpiece.

Stuart-Smith focuses on gardening, while Louv, a journalist, emphasizes being outdoors. They draw on different personal experiences and different research. But they reinforce one another wonderfully in explaining that human beings are programmed by evolution to spend so much more time outdoors and amid nature than they typically do now. And they would be healthier, socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically, if they had more contact with nature today.

This isn’t about the Covid-19 pandemic. Both were written before most of us knew word coronavirus. This isn’t about handheld devices with alluring screens, though both authors recognize today’s technology separates us from nature more than ever. This is more about the electric lightbulb and industrial production of food and clothing and shelter, all of which sent us indoors more than ever before.

Shouldn’t educators and others responsible for the care and nurturing of our you be thinking about gardening’s amazing connection with human wellbeing? We think so.

 – Bill Stoneman

Teaching and learning when kids aren’t looking

Some students pinch off stems and leaves of these greens and pop them right in their mouths. Some, of course, look horrified at the suggestion and say, “No way!” And both paths are just fine, as far as we of the Vegetable Project are concerned. Taking a risk has no timetable.

We grow the greens on classroom windowsills. For some kids, the move beyond a comfort zone starts with putting a hand in a tub of potting mix and moving it around to wet the planting material. For others, it’s tasting the shoots, typically 10 to 14 days after starting seeds. Either is fine. We happily accept that different human beings, even 11-year-old or 12-year-old humans, are, well, different than one another.

We’re in the education business, whether the school world recognizes that or not. And we think that inviting students to the table sometimes needs to come before shoveling information at them and calling that teaching. We build teaching and learning around doing and touching and tasting and experiencing instead because we think that can make impressions last longer than until the test next week.

Pea shoots, which germinate reliably, which grow incredibly quickly, which require no more preparation than pinching (though many other approaches are just as good) and which are delicious, are just a great vehicle for building trusting relationships with kids, engaging them and then sneaking a bit of teaching and learning onto their plate when they think we’re just serving a bunch of doing and touching and tasting and experiencing.

–Bill Stoneman

Why do we work so hard to get kids outside?

We plan to take our Myers Middle School Garden Club kids outside on Tuesday. It’s January. And though the forecast isn’t for an especially cold day, we won’t mind if it is a bit nippy. Why do we work so hard to get kids outdoors? We have tried to answer that before here and here and here. Maybe the thinking behind Tuesday’s plans can also help explain.

We’re going to sow seeds in a pair of hoop houses. The seeds Continue reading

Seeking help building miniature greenhouses

The Vegetable Project is collecting gallon-sized plastic jugs and would like to accumulate about 500 of them in the next month and a half or so. We would be so happy if your family buys anything in these if you would save the empties for us. We can pick’m up in Albany and nearby. Just let us know.

We’re going to turn them into miniature greenhouses and would like to work with a number of classes, giving one student after another after another a chance to make one for him and herself. We’ll get a jump on the growing season. And we’ll build teaching and learning around doing and touching and tasting and experiencing with these, because that’s what the Vegetable Project does.

We did this last year with 500 kids and had a blast. It was our biggest undertaking ever. It was a bit exhausting. But it’s hard to resist coming back for more.

We cannot, however, drink so much milk or juice or water ourselves. Maybe you can do some for us. Maybe you know friends and neighbors who could help as well. Please reach out at [email protected].

And we’ll also circle back to describe the wonderful volunteering opportunities  that this project offers.

Many thanks.

–Bill Stoneman

Winter harvests create teaching opportunities

Think the growing season ended a couple of months ago? Well, think again. And look at the leafy greens and root vegetables that long-time Vegetable Project volunteer Cremilda Dias harvested in her Albany home garden in the last two weeks. That is to say, mostly following single-digit temperatures.

And though extending the season with some simple coverings is pretty cool in itself, the really big deal for people who work to bring some teaching and learning outdoors, who wonder why Continue reading

Engaging students who do not engage routinely

The Vegetable Project engaged 375 Albany students in outdoors hands-on learning opportunities in the first month of the new school year. We took 15 classes at Myers Middle School and Albany High School for touch-and-taste walk-arounds in our gardens, during which we encouraged kids to pluck tomatoes and beans and more and pop them right into their mouths. Ten classes at North Albany Middle School participated in a daylong celebration of doing and touching and tasting and experiencing that revolved around establishment of the new Friendship Orchard at the school. And we launched Continue reading

Building friendship by planting fruit trees at school

Calling seven fruit trees recently planted in front of North Albany Middle School the Friendship Orchard might be a bit aspirational. And not just because seven trees do not exactly suggest the word orchard. But also because only time will tell if last month’s planting by sixth graders at the school will lead to the kind of loving relationship that the Friendship Garden, from which the “orchard’s” name is taken, has with its surrounding community. But that is our hope, or shall we say aspiration, at the Vegetable Project. Knowing what a special place Continue reading