students spaced out on straw bales

School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms During COVID Times

Schools have gardens for different reasons: to bolster academic achievement through hands on experiential education; to increase nutrition by exposing kids to healthy food choices; or to meet the social emotional  needs of individual students. Whatever a school’s reason to have a garden, this year that garden has the potential to serve not just as a hands on experiential education classroom, but also just a literal outdoor classroom. In these times, schools around Central Oregon are forging ahead in new and different ways to adapt to COVID-19. Whether public or private, local schools are already or will at some point in the future have at least small groups of students in person. Why not use the garden as a place to gather your students to work outside?

School Garden as Outdoor Classroom

School gardens offer not just all the regular benefits of a school garden, but also simply a place to work with students outside in the open fresh air. From a COVID-19 safety standpoint regarding aerosols, this is the best place to be, at least while the weather holds. For schools that already have a robust outdoor garden space, maybe all that’s required to make it more of a classroom space is seating. Straw bales offer sturdy flexible and affordable option, that can be used as mulch later in it’s life. For other schools, it might be portable teaching supplies, shade sails, or picnic tables.

Garden Grants Now Available

However your garden or outdoor space is currently utilized, our garden grants can support purchasing material and supplies to get the infrastructure in place to help you utilize your potential outdoor classroom. For 2020, we have pushed back our application deadline to December 18th, giving schools time to reimagine their outdoor spaces for next spring and beyond. Green Schoolyards has been working with professionals all over the country to compile ideas, resources and tools (including an “augmented reality visualizer for outdoor classrooms”) to help schools use this moment as an opportunity to transform their outdoor spaces. (The “Outdoor Infrastructure” section is particularly rich with helpful images and tools.)

Eligibility information, application and report are all available to download. Feel free to email denise to see if your project is a good fit for our 2020/2021 garden grants.

Our 2020-2021 Garden Grant applications

Important Dates:

  • Applications due December 18th, 2020.
  • Grant summary reports with photos are due Friday May 28th, 2020.

Note: If you are a new garden in the Bend-La Pine School District, we’ve worked with the district to develop a school garden development process that ensures everyone is on the same page and working together towards a sustainable school garden. Please visit our school gardens page and scroll down to “District Level Support” to learn more.

Questions? Please email Denise Rowcroft or call 541-312-8700.

freshly harvested rainbow carrots

Celebrate Farm to School on October 26 with Local Carrots

Farm to School Chicken Noodle Soup Available on October 26, 2020

Collaboration between local native farm and Bend-La Pine School District

Celebrate National Farm to School Month!It Takes a Community to Feed a Community

Farm to School Month is a 31 day celebration of the farm to school efforts that are being made nationwide.  Designated in Congress in 2010, this makes 2020 the 10th year anniversary of Farm to School Month. We invite you to celebrate with us by picking up a Bend-La Pine school lunch on October 26, featuring carrots grown right here in Central Oregon. 

Local Carrots in the Chicken Noodle Soup

While Oregon ingredients are found on school menus daily in Bend-La Pine Schools, they have a treat in celebration of National Farm to School Month! On October 26, all Bend-La Pine schools will be serving chicken noodle soup, but this is not just any chicken noodle soup. This soup will contain carrots from a local Central Oregon farm, Sakari Farms. These carrots were planted, and will be harvested, with the assistance of the Garden for Every School team at The Environmental Center. A Meet Your Farmer flyer, with a fun coloring sheet and a link to see the video of the carrots being harvested, transported and prepped for the soup will also be available at all school meal sites.

Meet Your Farmer

Sakari Farms is a Native American tribal farm located in Tumalo, Oregon. Spring Alaska Schreiner, the owner and operator, comes from Inupiaq lineage, bringing a unique perspective and knowledge on food systems. She serves on numerous regional and national level boards and committees, and is an advocate for local farmers and tribal members. She offers organically grown vegetables, flowers, seeds, and value added products at her farm. 

Sakari Farms is also home to the Central Oregon Seed Exchange and Sakari Botanicals. The Central Oregon Seed Exchange is a network dedicated to strengthening our local farming and gardening community, through seed saving and exchanging. Sakari Botanicals is a value added products culinary and healing tribal business, including healing teas, salts, and oils.  Spring works locally and nationally in food sovereignty, farm education, and in strengthening and creating a more sustainable local food system. You can find her products locally at Central Oregon Locavore, and online at


Bend-La Pine Farm to School Efforts

It is so easy to celebrate Bend-La Pine Nutrition Services during Farm to School Month, because they do farm to school year round! They put in a lot of hard work creating menus for students that are packed with nutritious Oregon grown ingredients that students will enjoy. Partnering with numerous farmers and ranchers across the state, Nutrition Services helps to keep Oregon agricultural businesses thriving, while providing nutrient dense food for their students. Some examples of their farm to school efforts include purchasing:

  • 3,500lb of stone fruits and apples per week from Thomas Orchards (Kimberly, OR)
  • 500 lb of beef per week from Painted Hills Beef (Fossil, OR) for their taco meat, nachos, hamburger patties, and chili
  • Berries and melons from Happy Harvest (Mount Angel, OR)
  • Wheat from Camas Country Mills (Eugene, OR) to make all of their from scratch breads, pizzas, cinnamons rolls, pastries, etc.,
  • Fish and shrimp (Oregon coast) for their Boat to School program

Garden for Every School

Garden for Every School is a project of The Environmental Center. As an organization working to embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon, we believe our food choices impact the health of our bodies and our planet, and that food can be a daily way to connect with nature. Our Garden for Every School team supports educators with garden and nutrition based lessons, local garden grants, garden educator network events, and operate our demonstration on site Learning Garden. We partner with FoodCorps, a national service organization, to connect kids to healthy food in schools. Statewide, we partner with the Oregon Farm to School & School Garden Network to serve as Central Oregon’s Regional Hub for school garden education.

More Resources

Tracy in the garden

Our Growing Garden Team

After two years as a FoodCorps Service Member, we’re excited to announce that Tracy Ryan has joined our staff as a Garden & Nutrition Educator! Thanks in part to the Oregon Department of Education Farm to School Grant, we’re expanding our garden team for the upcoming school year. Tracy served at Three Rivers School in Sunriver, where she provided nutrition and garden-based education lessons in many of the school’s classrooms. She also supported the wellness team in their efforts to plan and build their new outdoor school garden.

Tasty Tuesdays

As a FoodCorps Service Member, Tracy piloted a Tasty Challenge in the school cafeteria. This began as part of a national pilot with FoodCorps, where students tried the same vegetable prepared two different ways and chose their favorite. Research indicate that when a student chooses a “favorite,” they are more likely to try that item again in the future. The pilot went so well last school year  that she planned one for every month!

The Tasty Challenge became Tasty Tuesdays. We discovered that kids loved trying the items and voting for their favorite, and came to look forward to each month’s Tasty Tuesday. We were surprised when kids overwhelmingly chose roasted broccoli over a sweet broccoli salad, though not surprised when they chose sweet squash bread over roasted squash.

Adapting to COVID-19 in Schools

When schools shut down in March due to COVID-19, Tracy continued to support her students. She created garden and nutrition themed story time videos; check them out on our Garden Video Playlist! She ordered and assembled Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom activity kits for interested classrooms. And she assisted school site nutrition services staff assembling grab and go meals at the school. In addition to serving her site school, she also helped assemble and distribute over 1,000 Grab and Go Garden & Nutrition Activity Kits last spring to Redmond families at the school meal distribution site.

From Cooking Food to Preparing Snacks

This summer, Tracy helped strategize how we could still cook in the garden with kids while being safe in regards to COVID-19. As a result, our garden program continued to have a garden activity and a cooking activity that all the participating Boys & Girls Club kids got to participate in. (For five weeks over the course of the summer, we worked with two stable groups of 10 third grade students. These were the same kids who used our very own large meeting room at The Environmental Center as a home base all summer.)

For the cooking element this year, we went from preparing and cooking a shared meal to preparing an individual snack. These included making and eating a black bean dip (with a mortar and pestle!), “ants on a log,”  a lettuce wrap, pollinator salad, and a final garden harvest salad. Kids were set up with their own cutting board, a crinkle cutter for safe produce chopping, and other needed kitchen tools. Anytime we did garden harvesting, kids had their own colander to harvest and rinse from, and those items went into their own snack preparation. Other ingredients were divvied out for individual serving sizes, and kids prepared and ate their own garden snack. After eating and washing hands (again!) they washed their dishes and tools in our 3-step outdoor wash station, which includes a bleach sanitizing soak followed by air drying station.

Looking Ahead

As the 2020-21 school year kicks off, we’ll be adapting to Comprehensive Distance Learning alongside our whole community. Tracy will be working to support, maintain and expand the Three Rivers outdoor garden classroom while creating educational videos content. She will also navigate how to best support teachers with garden and nutrition-based learning opportunities. While we were excited to kick off and expand Tasty Tuesdays to 4 schools this year, we’re planning for the future and coming up with alternative ways to expose students and families to fresh healthy local food!

Happy Hour in the Garden Slowly Reopens

We slowly kicked off our Happy Hour in the Garden series these past few weeks, with very little turnout. Which was fine by me, because frankly I wanted to gently dip my feet into the new waters that is ‘putting on an event in the new COVID era’. I put it out to our volunteers from last year, and we were joined by a couple folks each week. Thankfully one of those volunteers was the knowledgeable Lisa Sanco, Sustainability Educator with Worthy Garden Club, who sponsored those weeks with beer. Next up is 10 Barrel! So put in on your calendar as a repeating event, and then join us on the Tuesday it works out for you! Here are our new COVID-10 guidelines, which we also have posted on our task board in the garden.

Volunteering in the Garden COVID Guidelines:

  • There will be a maximum of 8 volunteers (we do not have an RSVP set up for this at this time)
  • Please BYO (bring your own) gloves & hand tools (if you have them)
  • I will have other sanitized tools available for use if needed
  • Please bring a can coozie. Our donated beverages will be in cans and bottles this year, coozie will help you to identify yours.
  • Please maintain 6′ social distancing rules
  • Please bring your face masks to wear when 6′ can’t be maintained for a project
  • If you bring kids, they must be supervised and able to follow other garden guidelines
  • I will be: sanitizing tools, pens, and picnic table before and after use
  • We will have hand washing station and hand sanitizer available for use. Please use them!
  • Don’t come if you, anyone in your household, or anyone you have come in contact with has had any symptoms in the last 72 hours.

Happy Hour in the Garden is every Tuesday, 4-6pm, through September 1st. Every 4 weeks we’ll have another sponsor. Thanks to Humm Kombucha, Worthy Garden Club, 10 Barrel, Deschutes Brewery & Boneyard Beer for coming on board again this year!

Reflecting on our Spring Garden Pivot

When schools initially shut down due to COVID-19, I thought we were just getting a longer spring break. I even created a list of “things to do over our long spring break”, which included kitchen dance parties, making play-doh from scratch, virtual museum tours, and nature days. We scratched off some of those things in the early days when it all seemed kind of novel. This list is still clipped to our 2020 calendar, which I’m pretty sure is not on the current month. I was also excited to start working with 2 schools right after spring break, working in our Kansas Ave learning garden and in a Redmond school garden. We quickly pivoted our planned work to other avenues.

Learning Garden to Resilience Garden

For our on-site Kansas Avenue Learning Garden, I slowly planted it out with the idea that we could grow food for The Family Kitchen, potentially grow food for our students to harvest in the fall, and maybe to use with the Boy & Girls Club kids this summer. With so many unknowns, planting the garden was therapeutic for me. It’s no surprise that so many people planted gardens this spring, both for food security and something to do in their backyards. We have been able to donate radishes and salad turnips the last few weeks, and while fall programming is still up in the air, we look forward to working with 20 Boys & Girls Club kids in the garden this summer. Students that were supposed to come to the garden got weekly garden update videos instead. The full cycle farm field trip was turned virtual and they got seeds to plant at home.

Grab and Go Garden & Nutrition Activity Kits

In Redmond, we went from planning to work directly with teachers and students to figuring out how we could get resources in the hands of parents now at home with their kids. We turned to Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, who we were recently planning on joining for Central Oregon Agriculture Day in mid-March, until it was cancelled – our first COVID impact. We had decided to use one of their activities, Living Necklace, as they would have provided the materials for us to facilitate for 275 students. When we turned to them to see if we could still get these materials, they were happy to provide us with those and many others. We reached out to Redmond Nutrition Services to inquire about making activity packets to hand out to families that come for the meals, and our Grab and Go Garden & Nutrition Activity Packets idea was born.

Over the course of 10 weeks we handed out 1,025 family activity packets. We came to recognize many smiling faces week after week, as well as new ones each time. Each week we reached between 250 – 325 kids. Kits included supplies for each kid to do the activity themselves, or to work on as a small group. The kits alternated weekly, from garden at home seed germination or planting activities, to nutrition focused activities like mindful eating, learning about ‘go, glow, grow’ foods and how to make a ‘power plate’.

Survey Says!

About half of the families completed surveys that we’re still going through. However, 79% of parents said that ‘After doing the garden-based activities, my child is interested in gardening and/or plants more than before’, and 32% of parents reported that ‘After doing the nutrition-based activities, my child is interested in healthy foods more than before.’ Said one mom, “My boys loved these activities. Even the ones that weren’t so popular they made great conversation during meal times”.  Another said “It was wonderful having something positive and educational for our family during this time. Thank you so much!” We love that we were able to pivot quickly and reach new families with these activities that aim to connect kids to nature through food. As we enter into another season of unknowns, it gives us some confidence that we can adapt quickly and support garden-based education in innovative ways.

Springtime Reuse in the Garden

Spring is in full-fledged now. Frosty nights (my chicken’s water was frozen over this morning) make way for warm days and sprouting seeds. As you move through your garden deciding on new places to plant, expand, and build, I challenge you to find places creative reuse.

Why should I care about reuse?

  1. The newest DEQ report for our local landfill revealed Deschutes County residents threw away 179,991 tons of waste. The good news is that we recovered (either through recycling or composting) 83,472 tons. That’s a recovery rate of 31.7%, but our goal is 45%! As a community, we need to work together to lower the amount of waste we generate AND do our best to divert waste through recycling, composting, and (most fun of all) repurposing.
  2. Repurposing is fun! It’s a creative outlet. You can head down a serious rabbit hole if you start in on Pinterest reuse ideas.

Ok I’ve got my armor on: hit me with some ideas, Ani!

Here goes! Below are all the examples of creative reuse in our Kansas Avenue Learning Garden at The Environmental Center:

One side of an old broken bed frame supports the end of a garden bed and old tires become seats for weeding!

What creative reuse do you see in your garden?

In Redmond: Weekly take-home garden & nutrition kits

Earlier this month, I was supposed to start working in John Tuck Elementary School to support their school garden and related programming through a Farm to School Grant from Oregon Department of Education. When schools closed, we quickly pivoted and began collaborating with various partners to develop a plan to provide Grab & Go Garden and Nutrition Activity packets each week at Redmond School District’s school meal distribution site.

Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom has been a great partner is providing materials for us to distribute, and we’ve complemented those lessons with weekly story-time videos from our FoodCorps Service Member, Tracy. Check out our garden playlist on YouTube to see all our story times, as well as weekly how-to videos I made with my daughter for easy garden activities to do with kids at home. Check back weekly for new content! Here’s our latest video, In the Kitchen With Nora, in which she explains and demonstrates what a Food Hero is.

Here are links to our April packets. For teachers, you can request materials from Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, and for parents, most of the supplies are simple enough that you might even have them at home. The ‘Grab & Go’ sheets we put together each week complement the lesson with links to supporting videos and additional resources (all linked and available below), along with materials and copies of the lesson plan, also linked below.

Living Necklace

Mindful Eating

Seed Soil Sun & See Them Sprout

Give Me Five

Each week we’ve seen between 100-150 families, handing out materials for around 300 kids.

It’s been fun to hear back from families about their experience with the previous week’s lesson. One family even hung their living necklaces from their car rear view mirror to show us their progress! We plan to continue this weekly through the school year time frame.

Stay tuned for more weekly how-to videos, story times, and updates on our Kansas Avenue Learning Gardens’s progress as it continues to be planted out to grow food for The Family Kitchen.

Garden and Nutrition Activities To Do at Home: Living Necklace

Victory Gardens are making a comeback, locally and all over country. OSU Extensions’s Online Vegetable Gardening Course (currently offerred for free) has over 17,000  people signed up. Seed catalog companies are posting notices that they’ve been overwhelmed with orders and to be patient on getting yours. When everything feels out of control, as it does right now through this current COVID-19 Pandemic, it feels good to do something tangible for yourself, your family and your community, and for many people right now that is to plant a garden. Frankly, we’re thrilled about that. Being that we can no longer work with students to do hands on garden and nutrition based education, we’re helping to bring it to the students in their own homes. Here’s how we plan to do that in the coming weeks:

  • The Kansas Avenue Learning Garden will still be planted, and we are excited to grow and donate all of our food for The Family Kitchen. We’ve been bringing them extra greens and tomatoes for years, but this will be new to grow food specifically for them. They serve nutritious food using donation and volunteers to anyone who needs it, no questions asked. As more people will be needing their services (which are currently offered in to-go containers for the time being) this seems like the best use of our food growing space. We will be making weekly update videos to share on our social media channels with students and the community at large.
  • Happy Hour in the Garden will be back later this spring, instead of its usual May kick-off. We’re thinking of ways that people might be able to help out while maintaining strict physical distancing policies and other sanitary procedures. Stay tuned for developments later this spring as we come up with alternate plans.
  • Grab & Go Garden and Nutrition Activity Kits are a new initiative we are hoping to offer to families weekly. Tomorrow we will be at Redmond School District’s School Closure Meal Distribution Site at Redmond HS. We partnered with their Nutrition Services department to get approval from the school district to be on site, as well as Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom who sent us materials for our first week’s activity, Living Necklace. If you’re in Redmond, please stop by and say hi – from at least 6′ away – and pick up a packet for your family to experiment with seed germination at home. Not in Redmond? Good news, the materials for this weeks activity you can probably find at home, and as I’m now working at home, I enlisted my 7 year old daughter to help me create my first video. So yeah, the dog is barking a bit, we’re both wearing unicorn outfits, and it took me forever to do basic editing, so be gentle with me.
  • Here’s some resources for you to Make a Living Necklace of your own this week.
    • Make a Living Necklace –  Watch our 3 minute ‘how-to’ video to see what you need and how it’s done.
    • Storytime with Tracy – Watch our FoodCorps Service Member read the Dr. Suess style book ‘Oh Say Can You Seed’ to kick off your seed germination activities. Watch again a week later to connect parts of the story with your emerging seedling.
    • Living Necklace lesson plan – Download this lesson plan from Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom to more information on how to extend the learning with your students or your own kids at home.
    • Weekly Recipe: Dr Suess’ Family Snack– Download our packet info sheet that includes a simple yummy recipe to make with kids.
  • Gardening with Kids at Home – My new coworker and I will be making weekly videos of fun, simple garden based activities to do at home with your kids. Stay tuned to our social media channels and Living The Green emails to see new videos – in the works we have Making Seed Tape, Making Seed Bombs, and Tips for Gardening with Kids.

Have a question, tip to share, or something you want to see covered? Email me and let me know!
Stay healthy, denise

Spring Learning Garden Internship (CLOSED)

UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, our garden program looks a little different now, and we will not be hiring a spring garden intern. Thank you for your understanding. 

Our Youth Education team is looking for a spring intern with an interest in garden education. Please spread the word!

The intern will support our staff in delivering garden-based educational programs to elementary school students this spring in our Learning Garden and on a local farm. Program delivery includes: assisting with and/or presenting lessons, managing students, and assisting with set up and flow of garden experiences and volunteer work days. The internship will be from April 2 through June 4, 2020.

The intern will spend approximately 70% of their time as an assistant instructor and 30% of time assisting with coordination and general program support, such as gathering supplies, and setting up spring weekly volunteer work events in the Learning Garden.

Congrats to 2019/2020 School Garden Grant Recipients

The Environmental Center is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2019/2020 School Garden Grants. Over $10,000 is being awarded to nine recipients, including public and private schools, an educational farm, and community-based youth organizations in Bend, Redmond and Prineville. Since 2017, The Environmental Center has raised and distributed $28,000 to help build 10 new youth garden projects and support 14 additional existing school gardens.

  • $1,500 to Deschutes Children’s Foundation to purchase additional plants and drip irrigation supplies, prepare new planting areas, and provide a hands-on teacher training at the start of the school year for their nature playscape, which includes many garden elements. The nature playscape at Deschutes Children’s Foundation’s East Bend Campus offers a unique experience for the children served by MountainStar Family Relief Nursery and Head Start to deepen their relationship to nature and the outdoor world.
  • $1,500 to Powell Butte Community Charter School to build an outdoor classroom to enhance their native and pollinator garden. Funds will purchase benches, a storage shed and gardening supplies to plant a vegetable garden in existing raised beds.
  • $1,500 to REACH (Redmond Experience Activity Connection Hub) to purchase seeds, starts, supplies and tools to expand their existing garden to include a mission driven social enterprise project of students selling cut flowers to offer their youth an opportunity to learn about floral arrangement, marketing, sales and business concepts.
  • $1,500 to High Desert Middle School to purchase a greenhouse kit to be used by the school as a valuable inclusion tool that may support a connection between life skills, TAG, and the HDMS student body. The school garden will be used for science, cooking, and as an alternative space for supporting self-regulation.
  • $1,500 to Cascades Academy to start a new school garden to extend the school’s mission of experiential education and social responsibility in which students and families of various ages can engage with the curriculum in a hands-on way while reducing their environmental footprint and producing food for those in need in our community.
  • $1,000 to Bend YMCA to buy infrastructure supplies needed to start a new outdoor garden. The new garden will give Bend YMCA participants a hands-on approach that will enhance their learning and experience during preschool, after school and summer camps.
  • $900 to John Tuck Elementary School in Redmond to install drip irrigation in their school greenhouse, buy garden tools and paint for a renewed tool shed mural.
  • $600 to Sakari Farms Educational Cultural Farm to buy supplies to build on-farm infrastructure including a washing station, work benches and interpretive signs to support farm-based curriculum for school groups visiting for farm field trips. Sakari Farms specializes in growing and education about native/traditional foods.
  • $500 to StepUP to purchase greenhouse seed starting supplies to support and expand their current school garden efforts to grow plant starts for other district school gardens. StepUp serves Redmond K- age 21 students and strive to meet students where they are and build their skills and confidence to StepUP to success.

These garden grants would not be possible without the support of local and regional businesses and foundations. Thanks to support from Bend Whole Foods Market, Mt. Bachelor, NewSun Energy, Bend Garbage & Recycling, Center For Life Chiropractic, El Sancho, Ohana Salsa, Pacific Source Health Plans, Saginaw Sunset, Savory Spice Shop, The Roundhouse Foundation, First Interstate Bank, Cascade Natural Gas/MDU Resources, St. Charles Foundation, Pacific Power Foundation, Chambers Family Foundation, Crevier Family Foundation, Portland General Electric, and the Peggy and Bob Fowler Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation.

The Environmental Center’s Garden for Every School program exists to connect youth to nature through food. We do this through garden and nutrition-based education in the classroom, cafeteria, school gardens and farm field trips. We support youth organizations, schools and districts with annual garden grants and on-going technical assistance. We support educators through our Garden Educator Network school garden tours and workshops. Finally, we ground truth our own learning here in our on-site school demonstration garden, the Kansas Avenue Learning Garden. Learn more at