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.

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.

December in the School Garden

Winter has set into the high desert, dusting every surface with a layer of frost each morning. Frozen solid ground and freezing temperatures make garden lessons difficult in December. Luckily there are lots of garden-based hands-on lessons that you can lead indoors! Winter is also a great time to plan for the production season, and include your students in the process.

December Garden Activities

Cold Frames

Season extension methods can take you further into the winter than you may have imagined. On a sunny day it can get up to 20 degrees warmer inside a cold frame than it is outside! Even if a foot or more of snow is on the ground, greens and winter vegetables can be grown inside of a cold frame. Plant anything from leafy greens (pac choi, arugula, kale, endives, lettuces) to cold hearty root vegetables (carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, parsnips), or the cold friendly alliums (leeks, scallions, chives). This article from Walden Labs provides excellent advice on building your own! If you want to learn more about cold frames and different season extension methods, check out some of Elliot Colemans work particularly his Winter Harvest Handbook. Season extension makes all the difference in cold climates such as ours here in the High Desert, especially when fitting garden education into the school year!

Plan for Spring

One of my favorite parts of gardening is mapping out the production season. Have you made a base map for your garden? It can be fun to create one, and will result in better utilized space if you plan with correct dimensions. Is there garden infrastructure that needs to be improved in the new year? Do some research and figure out what you need and if it fits in your budget. If it doesn’t, now is a good time to form a proposal to ask your PTA/PTO or other community organizations for garden improvement funds!
Including students in the planning process helps them take ownership of their school garden. A great project idea (recommended for 4th grade and up), is to organize your students into groups and assign each of them (or have them choose) a crop. Give students the opportunity to look through seed catalogs and choose one or two varieties they want to see planted in the school garden in the spring, based at least partially on the growing requirements of the variety. Have students prepare a presentation on why they chose the variety that they did, and persuade the class (or multiple classes!) to vote for their variety of crop. This activity can be extended into seed starting projects and planting schedule calculations.


December 30 minute lesson

Bring some life into the cold winter and do a worm bin exploration lesson, or build a worm bin with your class! We recommend sourcing worms from the Wonder Worman locally in Bend, but you can also give The Environmental Center a call and we may be able to help you with your worm needs!
To view this lesson in its original format (pg.18), find worm box building instructions, and check out the other lessons in this garden based nutrition curriculum, check out Got Veggies.

Composting With Worms                                                                           All Grades

Lesson Overview

This lesson is designed to explore the nutrient cycle concept that students were exposed to in the Dirt Made Our Lunch lesson (pg. 14) and to reinforce the idea that our food comes from the soil. Use worm composting as an interactive way to demonstrate the importance of maintaining healthy soil—which keeps us healthy—and introduce students to the significance of worms in this process.


Students will:
1. Understand the nutrient cycle and the connection between healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people (Nutrition Ed B.4.5; Science E.4.2, F.4.3, F.4.4, H.4.3; Ecology/Environment E.4.1; Ag Ed D.4.1)
2. Know the function of roots (Science C.4.2, F.4.1, F.4.4)
3. Understand how plants collect and create nutrients people need (Ecology/Environment E.4.1; Health A.4.3; Science C.4.2)
4. Trace foods from origin to table (Ag Ed D.4.1; Nutrition Ed B.4.4; Science F.4.4)


Food: • Carrot sticks, apple slices, or some other healthy vegetable or fruit snack
• Worm Bin (see Making Your Own Worm Composting Bin on page 44 in the À La Carte section for instructions)
• Vegetable peeler or apple slicer •
Books: Wonderful Worms by Linda Glaser (for K-2/3), Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin (for 3-5), Compost by Linda Glaser, Worms Eat Our Garbage by Mary Appelhof, Mary Frances Fenton, and Barbara Loss Harris – Check out the


1. Make a garden or classroom worm bin. See Making Your Own Worm Composting Bin activity on page 44 in the À La Carte section of the Got Veggies book for instructions on how to make a worm bin. 2. Get suggested book(s). 3. Harvest or purchase – and wash – carrots and/or apples (or some other healthy vegetable or fruit snack). Cut carrots into sticks and apples into slices.



Begin the lesson by handing out a healthy snack such as apple slices and/or carrot sticks. Remember to have students wash or sanitize their hands before tasting. While students are snacking, begin a discussion about the nutrient cycle.
Let the students know that today’s lesson is about worms. Ask why they might be eating a snack during a worm lesson? What do apples or carrots have to do with worms? To answer this question, start by imagining an apple tree growing in the ground. Have the class brainstorm everything they know about the apple tree. Lead the discussion with questions about the roots, getting the students to think about the roots drawing nutrients from the soil, and then the trunk “sucking” those nutrients up into the rest of the tree and into the apples themselves.
If we eat an apple from that tree, then where do the nutrients go?
Answer: Into our bodies.
Where did the nutrients from the apple come from?
Answer: The soil.
But how did they get into the soil in the first place?
Answer: Small animals like worms play a big role in breaking down organic material like apple cores and carrot tops and returning nutrients to the soil.
Next, read one or more of the books about worms. You may want to introduce some fun facts (see sidebar) before or during the Worm Bin Exploration.

Worm Bin Exploration:

Before students begin exploring, make sure to mention two worm handling tips: (1) Keep your hands open, so that the worms can breathe; (2) If they start wriggling a lot, they are probably too warm or dry and they need to go back into the cool, moist bin. Ask the students to make guesses about what they will see when the worm bin is opened. You may also want to share some photos of what they might discover in the worm bin (e.g., worm cocoons). See Life Lab’s Worm Bin Bingo page. Smaller classes of about 15 students can successfully stand in a circle around the worm bin, and get a chance to see the bin all at the same time. With larger classes, the class may be divided into two groups: one to see the bin, and one to observe some individual worms, separated out from the worm bin. Extra adult help in the classroom is useful during this part of the lesson. Students may also choose to feed the worms with the scraps from their own snack. Apple cores and carrot peels are both good worm snacks. This reinforces the idea of the nutrient cycle. The worms will help put the nutrients from the food back into the soil, so that more apple trees or carrot plants can grow. Students have fun with the idea that worm poop is healthy soil that helps plants grow. Encourage the students to say something to the worms as they feed them, such as, “Thanks, worms, for turning this back into soil.”