kids building trellis

Summer in our Learning Garden

Thank You Volunteers!

Last week we wrapped up another great summer season of volunteering in our Kansas Avenue Learning Garden! Our Happy Hour in the Garden open weekly volunteer series is how we are able to get a lot of things done in the garden during the growing season, and collectively those volunteers contributed almost 300 hours to our garden! Some people came just once. A handful came almost every single week. One came very pregnant, and some came while on vacation. The beauty of an ongoing drop in is that anyone can contribute, and we’re so thankful for them all.

Win-Win Volunteering

One family that has volunteered the past 3 summers would regularly bring their whole clan of teenage kids and sometime their friends. This year they sanded and painted a weathered picnic table, beautified our signs, installed seed storage shelving and more weekly garden tasks along the way. In addition to getting some great work done for us at our garden, they’re getting credit towards their daughter’s orthodontia work. Have a kid with similar dental needs? Get credit to offset costs by volunteering in our community! Learn more at Smile Central Oregon.

Happy Hour Sponsors

Happy Hour in the Garden would not nearly be as happy without our beverage sponsors! A shout out to Worthy Garden Club, Boneyard Beer, 10 Barrel and Deschutes Brewery for their delicious beer, and many thanks for Brew Dr Kombucha and especially Caboost Kombucha, whose weekly growler fills kept us going all summer long!

Boys & Girls Club in the Garden

So what do we do with all the food we grow? Well first off, since it is a learning garden and not a farm, we are not really a high yield producing garden. Thank goodness, because we actually get a lot of shade from the surrounding trees and would have a lot of disappointed CSA members if that were the case! So while we don’t grow a lot of food, what we do grow is often quickly eaten  by weekly visits of youth from the Downtown Boys & Girls Club. Since the inception of this garden we have had a relationship with the B&G Club. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, as it adds some diversity to their programming and offers the kids outdoor garden space that isn’t possible at the downtown club. For us, it gets kids in the garden when school is out (i.e. MOST of the growing season!) and gives more kids the opportunity to connect with nature through food.

For the past number of years our summer programming has been a collaboration with OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program. This past summer, 2 dozen kids walked over to The Environmental Center and spent 2 hours immersed in planting, working, building, harvesting, cooking, eating and exploring the Kansas Avenue Learning Garden for 3 weeks in a row. All in all, about 100 kids in grades 3rd through 6th spent a total of 6 hours immersed in the garden. Half the time they spent with us doing garden activities, lessons, explorations and projects, and the other half of each time that harvested, prepped, cooked and ate a fresh Food Hero recipe with Ashley of OSU Extension. (The peach salsa was a hit!)

Some highlights for me this summer include testing out our new system for using reusables in the garden with youth (they loved washing dishes!), our first real blueberry harvest (happening now – get down here!), finding an actual pumpkin in the garden today (all summer long it was just all blossoms, today there are 3), building a trellis with middle schoolers, creating a special harvest celebration meal at the end of each session, and experiencing the changes that happen around us in the garden over the course of a summer.

Coming Up…

  • Fall Programming: We’ll be inviting Amity Elementary School back to the garden soon to dig up the roots and tubers, pull dried beans off the vine, harvest ripe tomatoes;, check out the three sisters garden, and discover that no watermelon ever grew. We might make a big soup with all the fall ingredients if it works out.
  • Fall Bulb Fundraiser: Beautify your garden while supporting ours! Visit The Environmental Center through September 18th to view the garden catalog, place, and pay for your order with cash, check or card. (We’re located at 16 NW Kansas Ave. in downtown Bend.) Bulbs will be available for pick-up at our Fall Garden Work Party on Saturday, October 5th or at The Environmental Center by appointment between October 8th -11th. If you can’t make it by but have an idea of what you want (ex: daffodils!) we’re happy to help you out over the phone as well. Just give me, denise, a call at 541.385.6908 x14 and I can tell you about the options, and then take a card over the phone. You get some bulbs for your garden, and we get some bulbs and money for our garden too. It’s a win win!
  • Fall Garden Work Party: Join us in the garden for our Fall Garden Work Party on Saturday October 5th from 10am-12pm. We’ll be in the Learning Garden doing typical fall garden stuff, including some early winterizing projects. We’ll have coffee, juice, and snacks on hand. Tools provided, and there will be some family friendly tasks available.

Beautify your garden while supporting ours

Support The Environmental Center’s Learning Garden by purchasing bulbs through our Fall Flower Bulb Fundraiser!

Visit The Environmental Center through September 18th to view the catalog, place, and pay for your order with cash or check. (We’re located at 16 NW Kansas Ave. in downtown Bend.) Bulbs will be available for pick-up:

  • at our Fall Garden Work Party on Saturday, October 5th;
  • in Redmond on Monday, October 7th;
  • and at The Environmental Center by appointment between October 8th -11th.

Please email Denise to discuss larger group orders.

Another FoodCorps Year in the Books!

FoodCorps is a nationwide organization under the AmeriCorps umbrella. Service members are in 18 states working to connect kids to healthy food in school. Their work focuses on three areas of service: hands on learning, healthy school meals, and supporting a school wide culture of health.

Here in Oregon, our service member, Tracy Ryan, was one of a cohort of 10 members serving at different sites. Service members are able to choose to serve a second year, and we are thrilled that Tracy has elected to serve an additional year with us! FoodCorps elevates all the work we do in our Garden For Every School program, and we look forward to deepening our experience in the year ahead. Here some highlights of the great work Tracy accomplished this past year.

Hands-on Learning

Tracy served intensively at Three Rivers School in Sunriver, reaching 280 students through hands-on classroom presentations about gardening and nutrition and a school-wide cafeteria tasting. She led weekly nutrition and garden related lessons in the Three Rivers ‘”garden room” at school. She worked with Wellness Committee teachers to utilize their three indoor mobile garden carts created from shopping carts. They were able to harvest from this indoor garden multiple times throughout the school year! (Our previous FoodCorps Service Member, Claire Londagin, was instrumental in assisting teachers researching designs and equipment to make this successful.) Tracy made herself Tracy in carrot costumeknown throughout the school, even in classes she didn’t work with. She was a regular presence in the cafeteria – teaching kids about portion sizes, identifying new salad bar offerings, and simply modeling eating healthy lunches. (It also didn’t hurt that she was known as as the “carrot lady” by wearing a carrot costume at multiple school-wide events!)

Tracy taught 111 students for over 10 hours, which is FoodCorps’ benchmark that has been shown to make the most impact in children’s behavior change regarding trying new foods. This was confirmed when Vegetable Preference survey results from two classrooms that received over 13 hours of FoodCorps instruction revealed that more than half of the students reported improved nutrition choices. Students indicated a positive change in their vegetable preferences when compared to the same survey at the start of the school year.

Tracy also supported Bear Creek Elementary School’s weekly in-school Garden Club, and had a weekly presence in their cafeteria supporting healthy school breakfast and lunch choices.

Healthy School Meals

Through FoodCorps, we participated in a nationwide pilot project called the Tasty Challenge, where kids tried a sample of one food prepared two different ways, then voted on their favorite. This method is backed by research that indicates when someone has to choose one item as their favorite, they are more inclined to consider trying that item again – as opposed to just saying they liked it or didn’t like it. The students loved trying fresh carrots vs roasted carrots and voting for their favorite. (Fresh carrots won that round!) The Nutrition Services staff at school were so on board with how smooth it went, they have already worked with Tracy to pencil out a Tuesday Tasting every month for the upcoming school year! We are excited about the potential of collaborating with Nutrition Services in this way, and see opportunities for highlighting how the cafeteria is also an important part of a student’s educational experience at school.

School-wide Culture of Health

Our team also supported Wellness Committee teachers to think through and complete the Bend La Pine School District’s new School Garden Development Application, as well as meeting with the BLPS District Staff to ensure that all parties were on the same page. As a result, Three Rivers courtyard garden will be the district’s first outdoor school garden to be officially approved since this process has been put in place! They have already started to receive in-kind and financial support, and will begin building when school starts in the fall. Tracy is looking forward to helping build this garden, and more importantly, to support teachers wanting to integrate the outdoor and indoor garden into their existing curriculum for the long term.

THANK YOU, TRACY! It’s been a fantastic year and we’re just getting started.

Summer in a School Garden

Here in Central Oregon, the prime growing season is exactly when school is out of session. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any use for a school garden! There are tons of ways to get students involved throughout the school year, from planning indoors in the winter months to hands on garden work outdoors in the fall and spring. But there still is the reality of what happens to a school garden when school is out? Here are some ways that local schools do – or could do – to deal with this reality.

  • Family Volunteers

    Some schools have a generous point person volunteer that loves gardening and wants to own this project. Others have asked student families to sign up for one week over the summer to come visit the garden and do some maintenance work. This works best when the garden is in an accessible location at the school (and you have willing volunteers!)

  • School Garden Champion

    In this case, one teacher has either officially or is the self appointed garden champion, and they take it upon themselves to check on it over the summer. If this is you, we recommend you work to form a Garden Committee next school year, because you may eventually burn out. On a lighter note, our garden grants (available in the fall)  can be used to cover up to $500 stipend for a teacher that is the garden champion, especially over summer break.

  • Summer Programming

    Some school locations have summer activities happening at the school already, either by the school itself or by a youth organization utilizing the site over the summer to run their programs out of. This can be a great way to get youth involved in the garden over the summer, enrich their programming, and make sure that someone is taking care of the garden. Also be open to youth programs nearby? Partnerships can be mutually beneficial in this way. For years we have worked with Amity Elementary School and the Downtown Bend Boys & Girls Club, both within walking distance, as a way to have students experiencing the garden through it’s entire growing season.

  • School Year Gardening

    Some schools ensure summer success by only growing during the school year. This is most appropriate for smaller indoor year round growing type set ups. However, there are some ways to plant an outdoor school garden specifically designed for only school year harvesting.

    • Plant spring crops that can go in early as soon as the soil can be worked (peas, spinach, radish) and harvest whatever comes up by the end of the school year. Your peas will not have reached maturity, but your students will be blown away that they can eat pea leaves that indeed taste like peas!
    • Plant things that can stay in the ground until students return in the fall, and are fairly low maintenance. Ideas include carrots, beets, potatoes, onion. They can plant garlic in the fall, you come back and harvest it when it’s ready in late July or so, hang em up to dry and they will be ready to join the other roots veggies for a roasted veggie meal or a soup. Another idea is to plant beans at the end of the school year when it’s warmed up, and then leave them on the vine. You’ll come back to dried beans (or still drying) that can be saved for replanting, sent home with students, or turned into a soup for a class harvest celebration meal.
    • Make seed tape with your students to accurately space out those tiny carrot and beet seeds, that way you don’t even need to spend time thinning out the seedlings in the summer. Also it makes a great wintertime/early spring indoor classroom activity to prep for your garden.

Let us know if you do, saw, or heard of other ideas for school garden summer maintenance. Happy Gardening!

The Dirt on School Gardens: Spring 2019

Our dream of a ‘garden for every school’ is becoming reality! Here are some recent highlights as kick off another season:

  • We approved garden grant requests for $10,000 to nine school garden projects in Bend, Sisters, Sunriver, and Prineville. These funds are helping schools implement garden-based learning in ways that meet their own unique needs and goals.
  • Our Garden Educator Network is now comprised of 117 educators in our region! The most recent workshop, “Spring Activities in the School Garden,” offered hands-on lesson ideas and a tour around the OSU Extension demonstration gardens.
  • Our FoodCorps Service Member, Tracy, is working with students at Three Rivers Elementary and Bear Creek Elementary schools. As part of a national pilot project with FoodCorps, she just conducted a ‘Tasty Challenge’ at Three Rivers, where students tried one vegetable prepared two ways and selected their favorite. Nutrition Services have since planned out a fresh food tasting once per month in the coming school year!
  • Bend-La Pine School District implemented a School Garden Development Application that we helped to develop. Last month, the first permanent outdoor raised bed garden has been approved by the district.

Lastly, our own Kansas Ave. Learning Garden is thriving! Swing by for Happy Hour in the Garden, a fun volunteer event, each Tuesday from 4-6pm.

Learn more about the Garden For Every School Initiative. 

2019 Garden Grants Award Winners

The Environmental Center is proud to announce the winners of their annual Garden Grant Program.

Through community, business, and foundation support, we approved requests for $10,000 to nine school garden projects in Bend, Sisters, Sunriver, and Prineville. Schools receiving award funds include: Crooked River Elementary School, Seed to Table Educational Farm for Sisters Elementary School & Sisters High School, Three Rivers School, REALMS High School, Waldorf School of Bend, Wonder Years Preschool, and Desert Sky Montessori School.

Projects include relocating a large donated greenhouse; building new raised beds; critter-proofing existing garden beds; turning an unused bike rack into a temporary mini greenhouse; improving outdoor classroom space; purchasing garden supplies and curriculum; and building a rainwater fed container garden.

“Once again we are excited about the innovative ideas that schools are coming up with to connect their students to plants, food and our environment through school gardens,” said Denise Rowcroft, School Gardens Program Manager with The Environmental Center. “These funds are helping schools implement garden-based learning in ways that meet the unique needs and goals of their own school community.”

The goal of The Environmental Center’s Garden Grant Program is to provide local funding for public and private Pre K – 12 schools in Central Oregon to build or support a school garden. Gardens can be indoors, or an outdoor classroom, depending on the needs and goals of each school.

“Local schools are fortunate to have opportunities like the Garden For Every School Program,” said Jackie Wilson, Bend La-Pine School District Sustainability Coordinator. “It helps students to connect to meaningful experiences outside the classroom and to become thriving and sustainability-minded citizens.”

Garden activities and education provide a wide range of positive benefits for kids, communities and the environment. Garden grants is one strategy in The Environmental Center’s Garden for Every School program. As part of this program, The Environmental Center also provides technical assistance to schools, has a FoodCorps service member to connect kids to healthy food in schools through garden and nutrition lessons, organizes local Garden Educator Network trainings and events, and operates the Kansas Avenue Learning Garden. Our garden grant funds this year were raised through donations from almost 60 local community members, generous businesses, and foundations.

Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation Supports Local School Gardens

The Environmental Center was awarded a one-year grant in the amount of $5,000 to fund a FoodCorps Service Member and to support the Central Oregon Garden Educators Network.

The Environmental Center is committed to increasing garden-based learning opportunities for schools across Central Oregon. Garden activities and education provide a wide range of positive benefits for kids, communities and the environment. Research indicates that integrating garden-based learning into the school environment generates a variety of positive outcomes for students – including physical, intellectual, psychological and more.

The Environmental Center has operated a learning garden for nine years at their facility on Kansas Ave in Bend. In 2017, we took our experience gardening with youth and expanded it to create a “Garden for Every School” initiative in order to support garden education in schools across the region. The Environmental Center now provides classroom and garden lessons with partner schools through a FoodCorps service member; organizes garden educator network events through its role as the regional school garden education hub; provides garden grants and technical assistance to local schools; and supports the school district in school garden development.

The Garden Educator Network, launched in 2016, provides regular opportunities for garden educators to connect through peer-to-peer learning, problem-solving, and resource sharing. In the coming year, these grant funds will provide the community with at least one training and two networking events, including a garden site tour.

The Environmental Center has hosted a FoodCorps service member annually since 2017. These dedicated individuals work with schools with the greatest need (Title 1 schools) to provide intensive support to sustain garden-based learning. Tracy Ryan, the current service member, provides nutrition and garden education services to Three Rivers Elementary School and Bear Creek Elementary School. In the coming year, these grant funds will support this partnership with FoodCorps, allowing Tracy to reach a minimum of 400 students.

“We are grateful to the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation for the support of our work to expand garden based learning into schools, and to help connect kids to healthy food in school,” said Denise Rowcroft, School Gardens Manager.

Learn more about The Environmental Center’s school garden initiative here.

Grant checks were distributed during a ceremony on January 9, 2019. The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation awarded a total of $496,550 to 73 organizations across Oregon.

Denise Rowcroft Receives Cooperator Award

Last month, Denise Rowcroft, Sustainability Educator at The Environmental Center, received a Cooperator Award from Oregon State University Extension Association. She was nominated by local extension Nutrition Educators Katie Ahern, Ashley Joyce, and Kaitlin Greene for her work in Deschutes County.

As shared during the presentation, “OSUEA has recognized cooperators for more than 30 years. Each year individuals and businesses are recognized for the significant contributions that have made to extension programs. It is through these cooperators that extension is able to accomplish so much.”

Congratulations, Denise!

Above photo: Denise is pictured with A. Scott Reed, Vice Provost and OSU Extension Service Director; and Wendy Hein, President of OSUEA.

A short excerpt from the awards presentation:

Denise Rowcroft is dedicated to connecting children to the basis of all life – food. She led the transformation of a vacant, weed-infested lot next to The Environmental Center into an outdoor classroom where children tend to the seeds they plant, make discoveries through observations and experiments, apply math and science skills, and get their hands dirty.

The OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program partners with Denise at The Environmental Center Learning Garden in sharing the growing cycle of plants to enjoying the garden bounty through nutrition education and recipe assembly. In partnership with Extension, Denise also created the regional School Garden Educators Network complimenting Extension work in healthy eating promotion at schools. Denise is changing the ways elementary schools are thinking about food, food systems, and learning, one school garden at a time.

Garden For Every School Fall 2018 Update

We are excited to be kicking off another school year rolling out our Garden for Every School initiative – our community effort to support school garden development in a way that is unique to each school’s needs, and done so with long-term sustainability in mind. To begin the school year, 14 local garden educators (potentially reaching over 700 students) gathered at The Environmental Center in mid-September for a training with OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program staff on the topic of Building Capacity with a School Garden Committee. With support from the Oregon Farm to School & School Garden Network, we act as the Central Oregon Regional Hub for school garden education, and we organize these events that feature trainings, resource sharing, and school garden tours as one of our strategies to support a garden for every school.

Thanks to strong community support, our summer garden grant campaign successfully raised $10,000 to support school garden projects in Central Oregon. The grants application period is now open, and the application, information, and highlights from last years’ grants are all available here, under the Garden Grants tab. Deadline is November 19th.

We’d like to thank our 2018 Garden For Every School business sponsors who make this initiative possible:

We would also like to officially welcome our new FoodCorps Service Member, Tracy Ryan. FoodCorps mission is to connect kids to healthy food in their schools.

During the 2018-2019 school-year, Tracy will be serving in Bear Creek Elementary School in Bend and Three Rivers School in Sunriver. Tracy will support activities in Bear Creek’s outdoor garden and assist with with indoor gardening and healthy food lessons during their weekly Friday afternoon Garden Club. This club is offered as an elective class to all Bear Creek students. She will also facilitate their staff Garden Committee’s collaboration on how best to serve students through hands-on activities in both the garden (their outside classroom) as well as the indoor classroom.

At Three Rivers School, Tracy will be working with the school’s Wellness Committee and their very creative indoor “mobile garden” that is housed in their Garden Room. Tracy will utilize this room throughout the school year to provide hands-on activities and lessons in gardening and healthy food lessons for K-5 classes.

Tracy will also be serving in the cafeteria of both schools by role modeling healthy food choices as well as encouraging students to try new foods. She looks forward to supporting Bend-La Pine School District’s Wellness Policy goals of healthy eating patterns and increased physical activity, which are essential for students to achieve their full academic potential, full physical and mental growth, and lifelong health and well-being.

Here at our own Kansas Avenue Learning Garden, the 5th graders at Amity Creek Elementary School came full circle by returning to the garden to harvest what they planted last spring as 4th graders. Back at their school, students prepped and ate delicious roasted root veggies, kale chips and tomato bruschetta.

An additional thank you to all the volunteers who helped out in our Kansas Ave. Learning Garden during the Tuesday Happy Hour in the Garden series! Don’t forget we have one more fall work party on October 20th, if you’re available to lend a hand.

Garden Grant Update: Three Rivers Elementary School

Three Rivers Elementary School in Sunriver had a very unique idea for a school garden! Their goal was to create a school garden project that was manageable in size and scope, but still connected students to growing food. With assistance from our FoodCorps Service Member, Claire, the school designed and built three mobile indoor garden carts using donated shopping carts – complete with a ‘parking garage’ lighting system, soil and seeds, and a water catchment system.

Students have been actively involved in planting seeds in the starter trays, transplanting the garden starts to the mobile carts, and watering and monitoring the growth of plants in the mobile carts.

Over the next year, Three Rivers plans to start a new science curriculum called “Amplify,” which will utilize the garden carts in tandem with a unit on life sciences. They also want to encourage more classes to be involved, and rotate the carts among classrooms. We’re extra excited to learn that Three Rivers sees this project as a potential catalyst for launching a bigger, more permanent garden project in the future!