Saturday, November 30, 2013

What to Eat and What Not to Eat

It’s a sunny November morning, the sun’s so low that we have to shade our eyes.   Yesterday, the afternoon classes spread a one-inch layer of cocoa bean hulls as mulch over several of their newly planted garden beds.   Now a new group of eight gardeners appear at the gate.

“Oh my gosh! What’s that smell?  The whole garden smells just like candy!”

“Yep, that’s right,” I tell them. “You are smelling chocolate cocoa bean hulls.  No, we are not growing chocolate here- chocolate only grows where it’s warm in the tropics. We are using this as mulch in the beds to keep the water in and the weeds out.”  

“Wow it smells great!”  “Can we eat it? Just a little bit?”

“No,” I tell them–“just like you can’t eat peanut shells.  These are the chocolate bean hulls, they’re too bitter… See, the bag says right here, ‘Not suitable for human consumption.’” Just then someone who didn’t quite hear me sneaks a cocoa been hull into their mouth and spits it out with a loud “YUCK!”

Needless to say, no one else samples the hulls. We go on to pick and eat tasty fresh radishes, the last of the tomatoes, and harvest the remaining bunches of flowers in the fragrant air.  Winter’s here in three weeks, just one rain so far, but the ground is wet enough for the students to dig up the earth and plant 130 daffodil and tulip bulbs.  Spring will reflect these efforts with riotous color. 

Bringing students face to face with where their food comes from opens up the world to them.  What was common knowledge in my grandparents’ time must now be learned anew.  I say to them, “Here, what does this smell like?” and snip some fronds from the fennel plant.  A sixth-grade girl takes a deep whiff and says, "Licorice!”  Now it’s on to the mint, where they pick the leaves and inhale the sweet scent they easily recognize. “This smells like gum! Can we eat it?”

“Yes, you can chew on it," I say. "And no, you can’t eat the tulip bulbs... but the onions are tasty.”

B-40 Middle School Fundraiser:  The School will earn a bonus of up to $1000 if they are among the top 3 on the Annie's School Garden Fundraiser site by Dec 4.   If you are interested in making a contribution, please do so by DEC 4.  Everyone who makes a donation by then will automatically be entered in a raffle to win two movie tickets at the Nickelodeon Theater. 

To Make a Tax-Deductible Contribution Click here. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hands, Minds, Hearts

"Hey, this is fun," the almost-six-foot 8th grader said to his buddy sitting next to him on the garden workbench.   These young gentlemen were planting violets for holiday gifts. As they gently lifted each seedling into the soil, then patted the earth down around each plant, one said to the other, "Be careful, these plants are alive."

I hear comments like these all the time in my work with the Branciforte Middle School 6th, 7th and 8th graders.  The sixth graders who plant daffodils want to mark their names on sticks next to their daffodil bulbs in the ground.   They run to check each week to see how their nursery of carrot, radish, and cilantro seeds are faring after our first autumn rain.  "Wow- these taste like cilantro!" they exclaim, surprised after thinning seedlings to make room for the rest of the crops.

It is such joy to be outside with kids–outdoors–out of doors, under the sky and sun.   They happily dig up garden beds, and always want to be the ones to water so they can make rainbows in the air while "accidentally" getting their friends all wet.  Branciforte garden is thriving as we move into winter, and the students keep on keepin on.

To Make a Tax-Deductible Contribution to Keep This Program Going, click HERE.