Saturday, March 8, 2014

Goodbye Ash Trees

This week we had the unfortunate luck to have our street picked for ash tree removal. Those darn Emerald Ash Borers have done a number on the ash trees here in the Twin Cities and the city has had to remove many of them. They probably chopped down around 25 of them on my street and I barely recognize my own road when I walk down it now. I know they have to remove them, but I just can't help but feel like the Lorax who wants to go protect the trees. But the real foe is the Ash Borer, not the men with chainsaws.
The funniest thing to come out of this, however, was this saucy piece of vandalism I found on my walk home today. 


Out of service indeed. Hopefully we'll get new trees planted when winter finally goes away and maybe they'll be smart to not plant all of the same tree up and down the whole street this time!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Minnesota Schoolyard Gardens Conference

This past Friday I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Minnesota Schoolyard Gardens Conference at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I was even more lucky to have my attendance paid for by my university department. The whole conference was incredibly eye-opening to me because until now I haven't really been terribly sure where I want to go with my degree. Hearing all the speakers and connecting with people in the field that is schoolyard garden education has given me a better focus on what I might be able to do for a career. I've always known that educating people about growing their own food and helping them learn about how to care for the earth was something I wanted to pursue. Now I'm not only affirmed in that, but I have been given more of a direction towards what I might be able to do specifically.

The day started out in the largest hall in the Arboretum where, from 8:30 to 11:30, all of the attendees listened to a few short speeches (two of which were given by the heads of the State Department of Agriculture and the State Department of Education) and the keynote speaker, John Fisher of Life Lab. He not only had some amazing stories about what that organization had accomplished, but also really drove home why we need to reconnect kids to where their food comes from. Kids who grow their own food are much more likely to eat that food. Doesn't matter if it's strawberries or arugula. Kids who garden also have a much better understanding of nutrition which is incredibly important in a country where 17% of youth are obese. Gardens also introduce curiosity into their classes which, in turn, fuel the 4 C's: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration. After John Fisher, a young entrepreneur from the Twin Cities, Immanuel Jones spoke about his venture, Eco City. It was incredibly inspiring for me to see someone my age going out and starting a movement to get kids in not the best area of town back to the earth and growing food for themselves and their families.

After the first half of the conference was over, we broke for lunch. This was a great time to sit down and discuss the opening speakers with my classmates and explore the Arboretum visitor center a little more. A few rooms were reserved for organizations and schools that set up tables and presentations so we browsed those and got some awesome free stuff along the way. Some seed catalogs, a gorgeously bound copy of the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom School Gardening curriculum, free zuchetta seeds, and some promotional material. I also explored their little glass conservatory where tons of orchids were in bloom. I've included my pictures at the end of the post.

See more below!!
The rest of the afternoon was organized into three sessions where you could choose which talk you wanted to attend. The first presentation I went to was by the garden educator for the Columbia Heights School District. She talked about you can literally teach everything with a garden. Math, English, sciences of course and social studies in a garden in very creative ways. The second session was partially presented by Midwest Food Connection and was part presentation, part brainstorming session about how you can incorporate diversity and culture into a school garden. Both of these presentations were incredibly eye-opening to me because it shows how creative you can get with a school garden and still teach to the graduations standards of your home state.

I also met some really incredible people from all over the state and country. Emily Kitchen from Cornell University connected me to an awesome group of people who've organized themselves into the group Emergent on Facebook. The garden educator from Columbia Heights really gave me a good idea of what I might have to do to with my education to get into a field like this (can you say teaching license and Master Gardener certification?).
If you're interested in learning more about school gardens, look up your local school districts and see if they're doing projects to get gardens into their schools and districts and if they need help doing so. In the meantime, enjoy my pictures from the arboretum.

One of my favorites: The Happy Dancer orchid.

The main lobby of the arboretum visitor center.
Fairy gardens!